Stunning Impatience and Failure: CNN, FoxNews, and the Health Care Ruling

At SCOTUSblog, an amazing, detailed account of the June 28 failure of CNN and FoxNews to broadcast an accurate report on the Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act by Tom Goldstein, the Publisher of SCOTUSblog (who got it right). Over 7,000 words on a 15 minute period of time.

The Court’s own technical staff prepares to load the opinion on to the Court’s website.  …  The week before, the Court declined our request that it distribute this opinion to the press by email; it has complete faith in the exceptional effort it has made to ensure that the website will not fail.

But it does…

The opinion will not appear on the website for a half-hour.  So everyone in the country not personally at 1 First St., NE in Washington, DC is completely dependent on the press to get the decision right.

But they didn’t. Or at least a couple big news outlets didn’t.  Chief Justice John Roberts started speaking at 10:06:40 am. That’s when the first press got the decision on paper. Bloomberg issued the first report 52 seconds later, correctly reporting that the individual mandate was upheld. But not everyone got it right, of course. 12 seconds later CNN reports it incorrectly. Fox had already posted the same news at 10:07:39. Lots of people were given the wrong news.

Tom Goldstein goes out of his way to explain why everyone was trying to do a good job and why what looks like failure really wasn’t in all cases. He is awfully nice about the whole thing. It sounds like he got reamed pretty bad in the comments for a while there for posting what turned out to be the accurate story.

It strikes me that he leaves something major out, though: the audience. It seems to me that the pace of technology has so acclimatized us to instant communication that we’ve become comically—tragically—addicted to speed.  Anything short of “right now” is unacceptable.  The problem is that some things can’t happen immediately. Not all of our problems can be fixed instantaneously. Some things just take time. And when we try to take shortcuts, we inevitably lose.

We don’t need news less than a minute after it happens, especially when doing so means running the risk of inaccuracy and hyperbole. We need the truth. Hopefully news outlets will remember that next time they endanger accuracy for ratings.

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