You know those comedy scenes in movies and television shows where the football player runs for a touchdown for the opposing team? Where they always show the guy who scored the touchdown being looked upon with derision and scorn afterward? That's probably how CNN producers felt after their live reporting outside the Supreme Court building on Thursday, where it was announced that the individual mandate ruling in the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) had been struck down. That is correct. CNN's football player scored for the opposing side. And it is doubtful that they felt any better when the team often considered their opposition, Fox News Channel, saw one of their players do the same within seconds of the CNN miscue.
How is it that both CNN and Fox News reported that the individual mandate in Obamacare had been struck down when it actually had not? It appears that in the rush to get the scoop on the other news networks, correspondents outside the courtroom were handed printed copies of the ruling. The correspondents simply read the first part of the four-page decision, where it noted that Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority opinion, noted that the individual mandate provision could not stand constitutionally under the Commerce clause of the Constitution, as was originally argued.
However, a few words away, that same Chief Justice Roberts noted that the mandate could be upheld as constitutional in that it was actually a tax and since Congress had the power to tax and had passed the law to begin, there was no reason to strike the provision down.
While the Obamacare ruling sent shockwaves through conservative factions in Washington and throughout the nation, CNN and Fox News stumbled on, according to NPR and other news agencies, with various correspondents noting that they had made a mistake in their haste to quickly report the results of the Supreme Court vote.
The Internet went wild with derisive articles and scoffing blogs.
And then on "The Daily Show," Jon Stewart, that comedic stalwart who has attempted to get the news media to hold itself more accountable over the years, got hold of the story. And if CNN and Fox News hadn't already become the laughingstock duo in media land for their ill-advised rush to present breaking news everyone knew was coming (although the details were still up in the air), they certainly were by the time he finished slamming them.
Stewart noted that CNN had beat Fox News to the wrong announcement by a mere eight seconds. But whereas Fox anchor Megyn Kelly quickly inserted two minutes later that that announcement was indeed wrong (after reading from the Supreme Courts official blog, SCOTUSblog) and that the ruling had upheld the individual mandate under Congress' taxation powers, CNN would take seven minutes to notice that they had been in error.
Regardless, all in all, it was an embarrassing display for both news networks. But Stewart reserved his greatest condemnation for CNN, pointing out that it was CNN that had belabored their airtime with news and speculation for months about the outcome of the Supreme Court decision. He noted CNN's Wolf Blitzer had characterized the mistake as "widely different reports."
"There's what you've been saying and there's what's happened," he smirked. He added that the embarrassment would not have occurred at all had the reporters simply read up to page four.
But the point is clear. In a world where the 24-hour news cycle has become a matter of course, it matters more that the news being presented be accurate and informative, not first and full of errors, especially when getting across the goal line ahead of the others can be measured in a matter of seconds.
No wonder so many people are better informed when they listen to NPR and watch "The Daily Show."
(photo credit: Sgt. Adam M. Stump, Wikimedia Commons)