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CNN and Fox News fail: Cable channels misreport Supreme Court's health care ruling early



cnn-fail.pngIt's not the kind of news that cable newschannels like to make.

But both CNN and Fox News made big mistakes in early reporting on the Supreme Court's ruling on health care legislation this morning, telling viewers on air and on social media that the court had struck down the law's individual mandate when it had not.

"It appears as if the Supreme Court has struck down the individual mandate," CNN reporter Kate Bolduan said, above a headline which read, "Supreme Ct. Kills Individual Mandate." Fox News was reporting the same news, as their reporter spoke above a headline reading "Supreme Court Finds Health Care Individual Mandate Unconstitutional." (at right, CNN's original mistaken headline and the corrected version)

CNN's original tweet read: "Supreme Court strikes down individual mandate portion of health care law. "

Think Progress offers this Storify item showing that the Huffington Post and Time magazine also tweeted incorrect information, either passing along CNN's mistake or making their own error.

The Tampa Bay Times even initially passed along the mistake, retweeting CNN's original message on its @TB_Times account before deleting it at 10:19 a.m. and noting "Forgive our first tweet. Supreme Court says health care law stands."

Within 10 minutes or so, both cable channels realized they had made a mistake; the court had accepted the mandate as a new tax, which is within Congress' power. Broadcast networks broke into programming at about 10 a.m., struggling similarly to deliver an accurate analysis.

But the cable channel's mistaken reporting created some confusion online, as CNN's Twitter feed reported the health care law was struck down while feeds from wire services such as Reuters and Associated Press reported the opposite.

It was the kind of news situation made for a live TV mistake -- recalling the frenzied efforts to dissect the court's ruling on the presidential election back in 2000 -- as correspondents stood on the steps of the court trying to figure out a complex ruling in which the court rejected the best-known argument for the mandate but accepted a secondary one.

By 10:15, CNN has issued a correction online with the right information and both news channels were delivering the correct interpretation.

CNN has issued a statement on the mistake: ""In his opinion, Chief Justice Roberts initially said that the individual mandate was not a valid exercise of Congressional power under the Commerce Clause.  CNN reported that fact, but then wrongly reported that therefore the court struck down the mandate as unconstitutional. However, that was not the whole of the Court’s ruling.  CNN regrets that it didn't wait to report out the full and complete opinion regarding the mandate.  We made a correction within a few minutes and apologize for the error."

Fox News, in contrast, issued a statement where its executive vice president of news Michael Clemente did not apologize for a mistake, saying “we gave our viewers the news as it happened,” and noting that they corrected their error “within two minutes.”

The mistake drew lots of criticism for CNN, which is drawing some of its lowest prime time ratings in decades. often the channel pushes back by stressing the quality of its reporting and it scores its best viewership when big news breaks out.

Predictably, the reporting on cable newschannels broke down along party lines, as right-leaning Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly told viewers President Obama has once rejected the notion that the health care law was a tax and liberal MSNBC anchor Melissa Harris Perry said she was "giddy" over the ruling.

The news report also confused legislators. The site Politwoops, which identifies deleted Twitter posts by legislators and public officials, found several messages it says Congressmen sent in the immediate wake of the early, mistaken reports which were later deleted.

Rep. Aaron Schock -

Individual Mandate ruled unconstitutional...still developing....

Rep. Darrell Issa -

RT @repjustinamash: This is a big win for #liberty & the #Constitution.


Rep. Tom Rooney -

Breaking - #SupremeCourt strikes #individualmandate. Great news for American people, victory for constitution. #Obamacare


And Andy Carvin, a senior strategist at NPR who has won awards for the news coverage he provides over Twitter, put it in perspective with this tweet: "As the guy who tweeted for NPR (mistakenly) that Gabby Giffords was dead, I feel bad for those down the CNN production line who had to press the buttons."

[Last modified: Thursday, June 28, 2012 2:39pm]


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