Getting it wrong: Media rushes to report on Supreme Court's health care decision

Screen shot of CNN's homepage at the time of the Supreme Court ruling over the Affordable Care Act. CNN

Getting it wrong: Media rushes to report on Supreme Court's health care decision
Screen shot of CNN's homepage at the time of the Supreme Court ruling over the Affordable Care Act.
CNN

(CBS News) The Supreme Court ruled today to uphold the individual mandate portion of President Obama's Affordable Care Act. All media outlets were sharply focused on the historic decision and attempts to satisfy appetites for instant news brought a string of mistakes in on-air and online reporting.

Supreme Court upholds health care mandate

As the complicated ruling was being announced, CNN reported that the Supreme Court had struck down the individual mandate. The network corrected itself within minutes, but the Internet had already taken note.

Critics were quick to reprimand the cable network. Twitter was ablaze with scathing commentary, including this tweet from Detroit Free Press editor Brian J. Manzullo.

"Note to CNN: No one would have remembered you posting the *#SCOTUS, decision first. Now everyone will remember you for having it wrong," tweeted @BrianManzullo.

The Washington Post's Eric Wemple went further to question how breaking news is defined, writing, "Someone needs to tell CNN: There is no such thing as fashioning a scoop over something that's released to the public."

A screen shot of CNN's correction on the Supreme Courting ruling on the Affordable Care Act.
CNN
CNN released this statement on its website:

"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 also ran that the Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate. However their website did not immediately publish a decision either way - only pointing to a live stream of the network's broadcast.

Earlier in the morning, the Chicago Sun-Times accidentally published a pre-written version of their post on the court ruling. A screen shot of the live article was tweeted out by journalist Dan Catchpole, opening a window into how some media outlets prep to break news.

The Sun-Times claims that the article never went live on its site, despite being indexed by Google.

"Through a glitch, the hidden page on our web platform was momentarily captured by the Google search engine. It was, however, never published live on the site," a spokesperson for the Sun-Times told CBS News. However, it doesn't explain how the link was indexed by Google.

With all of the confusion created by mixed reports, a handful of politicians tweeted out the misinterpreted Supreme Court ruling, later rushing to delete.

There are a number of other examples of outlets reporting the opposite of the court's opinion, according to a Storify link that has spread around the Internet via Think Progress. Among the outlets, The Huffington Post reported that the Supreme Court had ruled the mandate unconstitutional, while NPR and Time re-tweeted CNN's report.

"Any news organization that reports a major story first, but incorrectly will have to take a look at its internal process," Garance Franke-Ruta, senior editor at The Atlantic told CBS News. "I don't think you can draw any systematic conclusions about online reporting."

In a similar incident to what occurred today with the Sun-Times' story, in 2010 CBSNews.com falsely reported that Holland won the World Cup, posting a headline that read: "The Netherlands Wins First World Cup and Ends 22-Year Streak Without a Title of Any Kind." The headline was retracted immediately, but not before drawing criticism.

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