Yesterday, on CNN:
Kate Boulduan: “...I want to bring you the breaking news that, according to producer Bill Mears, the individual mandate is not a valid exercise of the commerce clause so it appears as if the Supreme Court justices have struck down the individual mandate— the centrepiece of the healthcare legislation. I’m going to hop back on this phone and try to get more information and bring it right to you, Wolf.”
Wolf Blitzer: “Wow, that's a dramatic moment. If in fact the Supreme Court has ruled that the individual mandate is in fact unconstitutional, that would be history unfolding.”
Banner: SUPREME CT. KILLS INDIVIDUAL MANDATE
CNN, whose ratings have been slipping due to a paucity of hard-hitting news, according to The Associated Press, and which had been running a “countdown clock” to 10 am on its screen for hours leading up to the announcement, is reported to have also tweeted and emailed the faulty news to its followers.
Meanwhile, on Fox News:
Bill Hemmer made a similar gaffe, declaring it “breaking news” that the individual mandate had been declared unconstitutional, and a Twitter account run by Fox anchor Bret Baier allegedly posted the same news.
Meanwhile, at the White House:
President Barack Obama reportedly watched the broadcasts on four television monitors outside of the Oval Office. ABC's White House correspondent Jake Tapper reported that, temporarily misled, the president received the bad news calmly.
A couple of moments later, White House Counsel Kathy Ruemmler is said to have arrived, giving Obama a thumbs up, having received the correct information from the Supreme Court’s blog and from a White House lawyer: the Supreme Court had actually upheld his health care law 5 - 4. Obama allegedly responded by hugging Ruemmler.
The first ones to get it right were Bloomberg News and AP at 10:07 am EST, followed by Reuters and the Supreme Court’s SCOTUSblog.
The New York Times, which had discussed the need to be cautious in interpreting the nuances of the decision in meetings prior to Thursday’s ruling, was comfortable with being late, according to Managing Editor Jim Roberts via AP. "It's almost stupidly obvious to say, 'We want to be right,' but we want to be right," said Roberts.
How late is late? The Times posted the news at 10:20 am.
This is the latest installment in the ongoing struggle between being first and being sure.
According to AP, this was an “excruciating test” for reporters, given that they were handed a “59-page decision choked with legalese” and expected to make sense of it for the global audience “almost instantly.”
Media commentator Jeff Jarvis was adamant that this is not an example of “process journalism,” which is about covering a story such as a storm or riot as it unfolds.
“In true process journalism, the news itself is a process, not a fait accompli like a court decision,” Jarvis wrote on BuzzMachine. “This was a matter of reporting your misunderstandings before you know enough to say that you know anything…This was a matter of TV news making bad assumptions on too little information and speaking too soon,” he added.
Proclaiming the death of the scoop, Jarvis made the following argument:
“The real lesson here is that the scoop is and always has been a dangerous act of journalistic narcissism. Did it truly matter if one outlet “broke” the same information that other outlets — and the world of the internet — knew a second before another? Or was it indeed worse when those outlets got it wrong because they were hasty and stupid? They were still seduced by the scoop, which has no value in media that operates at the speed of the link."
"Journalists must think how they can best add value to information, not how they can most rapidly repeat it. Explaining the story is adding value. Getting it wrong detracts value and devalues credibility.”
True as this may be, let us not deny that we are collectively more addicted to immediacy than ever before. As such, major news sources are under pressure to deliver, and journalists (who are human, after all) are bound to continue to err. The true lesson is perhaps this: for those who get it wrong, the only way to save face is to come clean.
While CNN offered “an unequivocal apology” for its mistake, stating that it regretted not having waited to report the full and complete opinion, a Fox executive justified the network's error by saying that it was giving “viewers the news as it happened."
“Our job is to share the news as we learn it,” said Michael Clemente, Executive Vice President of news-editorial at Fox to the Washington Post. “As we were hearing it, and as we were reading it, we let our viewers know about it,” he said, adding: "You don’t have to wait until the conclusion of the Yankees game to give the score.”
Image Credit: Wikipedia
Video from The Young Turks: