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CNN and Fox News misreport Supreme Court's health care ruling early

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California smiles as she watches the breaking news from the Supreme Court, which upheld the Affordable Care Act on Thursday.

Associated Press

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California smiles as she watches the breaking news from the Supreme Court, which upheld the Affordable Care Act on Thursday.

It's not the kind of news that cable news channels 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 Thursday 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."

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

The website Think Progress noted that the Huffington Post and Time magazine also tweeted incorrect information, either passing along CNN's mistake or making their own error.

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

The mistakes brought 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.

The Tampa Bay Times' official Twitter account @TB_Times also passed along the mistaken information from CNN, sending a correction at 10:19 a.m. noting "Forgive our first tweet. Supreme Court says health care law stands."

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

By 10:15, CNN had issued a correction online. Later, the channel issued a statement: "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 issued a statement in which 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 brought 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, scoring its best viewership when big news breaks out.

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."

Obama heard the erroneous news first

President Barack Obama first heard about the Supreme Court's health care decision from erroneous cable news reports on television monitors outside the Oval Office. Anxious, he looked to his chief counsel, Kathryn Ruemmler, who was approaching with the news. She flashed him two thumbs up, the Associated Press reported.

Ruemmler explained her initial reading of the court's decisions, how the law had been upheld, and how there were five votes finding that it was valid under Congress' taxing power. Obama hugged her as chief of staff Jack Lew looked on.

AP said the details of how Obama learned were described by administration officials on the condition of anonymity.

Obama's first telephone call was to Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, who argued the case for the administration before the court.

Associated Press

Florida CFO Jeff Atwater's staff misfires

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater's press shop got snagged in an embarrassing retraction Thursday after the errant CNN and Fox News reports.

As Atwater was meeting with Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi in a quarterly clemency meeting, his communications office pressed the button at 10:10 a.m. on the wrong press release that had been prepared in advance.

"Today's landmark ruling by the Supreme Court upholds two distinctly American principles outlined in our Constitution — individual freedom and limited government,'' Atwater was quoted as saying.

Four minutes later, they sent out a new one: "Please disregard previous healthcare statement."

Alexis Lambert, spokeswoman for Atwater, said the CFO didn't know any of it was happening.

"We reacted to the initial report from CNN and Fox News and then recalled it within a minute,'' Lambert said.

Mary Ellen Klas, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

CNN and Fox News misreport Supreme Court's health care ruling early 06/28/12 [Last modified: Thursday, June 28, 2012 11:51pm]

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