You’ll be hearing about this morning’s news reporting for a long, long time.
During the announcement of the landmark Supreme Court ruling on President Barack Obama‘s health care reform legislation, Chief Justice John Roberts kind of “backed into his lede,” as we’d say in the newspaper business.
The result: CNN, on a hair-trigger, reported that the court had struck down what detractors have called “Obamacare.” When, in fact, it became apparent a few minutes later that the court supported it.
Fox news did the same. But I’m going to be honest here: I’ve come to expect crappy reporting from Fox. I expect better from CNN. The kind of performance we saw this morning gives ammo to those Fox News lovers out there (I’m looking at you, Dad) who claim the “mainstream media” is incompetent.
A number of folks sent me pictures of cable TV and news web sites. More than half of those sources asked not to be credited. So I’m not going to credit anyone, if you don’t mind.
First up: Here are TV screencaps as folks at CNN struggled to figure out what to report. My source for these pics assures me these are in correct order.
Keep your eye on the crawl.
First, the individual mandate was reported to be struck down…
Then, the whole thing was partially upheld and partially struck down.
Somebody must have realized they were in trouble already. This is about as generic a headline as you can get.
Next — a good 19 minutes after the hour — CNN reports quotes from the chief justice, who ended up as the “swing vote” in this decision.
And finally — a full 24 minutes after the hour — CNN announces: “Obamacare” has been upheld.
My question: Would it not have been better for CNN to simply wait until they knew what the hell the news was before they tried to report it?
My answer: Yes, it would. But the truth is: No, it wouldn’t. Not in today’s media environment. Sadly enough.
It wasn’t just the on-air folks who struggled with this, obviously. CNN’s online folks went through the same whiplash trying to stay on top of the story.
At 10:11 a.m., CNN’s web site reported the individual mandate had been struck down.
Two minutes later, the web editors backed off the main headline and the story deck. Note how the breaking news strip across the top hasn’t changed.
A few minutes later, that strip has been updated to show the court backed all parts of the health care initiative. Yet, the actual story headline and deck hasn’t quite caught up yet.
Yet another helpful blog reader sent me this pairing that compared the CNN breaking news headline with a similar — and simultaneous — breaking news headline by Reuters.
So clearly, CNN was behind the other news outlets on this story.
Finally, one reader notes:
Fox News reports the actual news in tiny red reverse bar at the top of the page. While the big headline still apparently reflects its wishful thinking.
So this was my morning…
I woke up fairly late and then laid in bed with my laptop for 90 minutes or so, browsing the Newseum and answering email.
Realizing it was nearly 10 a.m., I decided to watch the Supreme Court news on TV. I leaped out of bed, dashed into my office, turned on my TV to watch the news on CNN.
Once I heard the initial report, I turned off my TV, took a shower, went downstairs, ate breakfast and read the newspaper. I then came back upstairs, and opened my laptop, only to find my email was blowing up with screencaps of the cable news debacle that had unfolded while I was offline.
So I’m a very good example of the kind of news consumer who relied on CNN to report the story. And was burned.
The fault is twofold:
a) About 50 percent of the blame can be placed on the nature of breaking news itself. This is what happens when news breaks: The story isn’t reported as much as it’s shaped like a sculptor shapes a lump of clay. In cases like this, we viewers — or readers — are essentially watching over the shoulder of the media as it collects notes and nuggets of facts, before they’ve been checked and vetted.
I mean, think about Watergate. No one really knew what Woodward and Bernstein were onto at first. In fact, that story took years to develop. Most news consumers aren’t accustomed to seeing news reported incrementally.
b) The other 50 percent can be blamed on how danged fast today’s media is. Yes, everyone’s in a rush to report first. Apparently, beating everyone else by mere seconds is considered bragging rights.
I recall a huge local story that broke a few months ago. A certain newspaper in this area posted a map in which the location was way off. When I mentioned it on Facebook, the editor of that web page reacted rather negatively.
In this new media world, apparently, it’s OK to report something wrong, as long as you report it first.
That’s insane. But that’s the world we live in. I wonder if that’s the kind of thinking that goes into the Digital First company’s decision to decrease the size of — and, in the case of the Denver Post, eliminate entirely — its copy desks.
Accuracy is so 20th Century. Journalism in the 21st Century isn’t about accuracy; it’s about speed.
And it’s only going to get worse.
For further reading:
- Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman — much quicker to his keyboard than I today — covers much of this same ground but also includes tweets from various news reporters. If you’re interested in today’s debacle, this is must reading.
- A Bloomberg PR staffer brags to Jim Romenesko that they had the (correct) news first. Evidently, Bloomberg beat the AP by a good 24 seconds.
- Over at Mediate, CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin attempts to explain — rather unsuccessfully, in my opinion — what went wrong today.
- Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon reports that CNN apologized over its misdeeds today. Fox, however, claims it was simply “reporting the news.” How typical Foxian of them. Sigh…
- iMediaEthics took a closer look at the corrections issued following today’s mess and suggested we compare tham to the McClatchy/Julian Assange reporting.
- Republican Congressman — and gubernatorial candidate — Mike Pence of Indiana apologized today for comparing the court ruling to 9/11. It’s folks like this who put the goober into gubernatorial.
- The Associated Press taunted CNN over its woes this morning. Until an editor ordered that taunting to stop. Romenesko has the story here and here.
- Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon, also, recounts what happened this morning.
And a few purely humorous reactions…
- Ernie Smith of ShortFormBlog posted an amusing Photoshop that harkens back to another prominent media miscue.
- BuzzFeed posted a couple of wonderfully funny items today: a) The morning summed up in GIFs from the Simpsons, and b) Folks who apparently didn’t see the irony of tweeting they’re going to move to Canada as a result of this ruling.
- Twitter users are contributing their favorite faux-mistaken CNN headlines of all time.
- And the Huffington Post posted a collection of the day’s funniest tweets regarding the ruling and CNN’s misreporting. This was my favorite:
Yeah. That sums this up pretty well, I’d say.