FIRST! CNN Blunders With Obamacare Ruling Coverage
By Matt Algren. June 28, 2012, 12:20 PM CDT
Dan Gillmor, author of the book Mediactive, wrote an increasingly relevant post in 2009 after botched reporting of the shooting in Fort Hood, Texas, in a call for what Harvard University’s Ethan Zuckerman calls a “Slow-News Movement.”
Like many other people who’ve been burned by believing too quickly, I’ve learned to put almost all of what journalists call “breaking news” into the categories of gossip or, in the words of a scientist friend, “interesting if true.” That is, even though I gobble up “the latest” from a variety of sources, the closer the information is in time to the actual event, the more I assume it’s unreliable if not false.
As if to prove his point, CNN made a major misstep today when reporting on the U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding a key part of the Affordable Care Act (colloquially known as Obamacare), ruling that the individual mandate is, in fact, constitutional. The story rocketed across social networks, and in its zeal to get the story first, CNN got the story completely wrong. And when I say “wrong,” I mean they reported the exact opposite of the truth, on the news organization’s website, CNN’s Twitter account, and even on television. Basically, CNN looks like it’s taken inspiration from the annoying YouTube commenters rushing to comment “First!” on new videos.
This is nothing new, with the most obvious comparison being the Chicago Tribune‘s famous “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline in the 1948 presidential election. But in the days of an ever-shrinking news cycle and nonstop “Breaking” news, when being the first to report means getting more eyeballs on your website and viewers to your channel, it’s becoming a more frustratingly common problem. It’s like someone trying to speed read a mystery novel and explain what’s happening before some other reader figures out “whodunit.” The difference, of course, is that finding out the fictional “whodunit” is fairly inconsequential. When your stock and trade is true and correct information, it’s probably better to make sure your information is true and correct.
In the aftermath of CNN’s big oops, Bloomberg claimed bragging rights this afternoon on the Obamacare story. According to a PR flak email sent to Jim Romensko, Bloomberg was first to get it right, publishing 24 seconds ahead of the Associated Press. They even provided screenshots to prove their case, as if their guy typing slightly faster than the guy at the AP makes their news any better.
I can handle the peanut gallery on YouTube rushing a “First!” comment. It’s stupid, but whatever, they’re bored teenagers searching for significance. I expect better from corporations that want me to trust their news coverage.
About Matt Algren
Matt is a self-taught tinkerer who's fallen madly in love with social media and neato Android stuff. He writes on an eight-year-old computer that constantly freezes up on him, leading him to teach the neighborhood kids many new swear words when he has his windows open. He's probably eating chocolate ice cream in his home in Southwest Ohio right now. It's delicious.