Today’s Blown Supreme Court Call On CNN And Fox News
Earlier today, both CNN and the Fox News Channel misreported the Supreme Court’s decision regarding President Obama’s health care law.
I hammered CNN on Twitter for its mistake. Well-known investor Henry Blodget took me to task, arguing that “News orgs will always make mistakes…I’m sure they’re ripshit about it. Someone will probably get fired. But it is what it is. And it’s now old news.”
With all due respect, I believe that he couldn’t be more wrong. The issue isn’t hammering a news organization for a single mistake, but for failing to learn from high-profile mistakes the network—and other media organizations—have made in the past.
CNN, for example, did a lot of journalistic introspection after retracting its infamous “Operation Tailwind” story in 1998. But that didn’t stop the network from incorrectly calling Florida for Al Gore two years later (disclosure: I worked for CNN at the time, but had no influence over that call).
And last year, CNN was again part of the story when many major news organizations — most notably National Public Radio — incorrectly reported that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had died. This appeared on NPR’s blog:
“2:24 p.m. ET: CNN reports it too has confirmed that Giffords was killed.”
They’re not alone. In 2004, The New York Post splashed John Kerry’s Vice Presidential choice on its front page: “Dem picks (Dick) Gephardt,” blared the headline. Except he didn’t. John Edwards got the nod.
In 1981, President Reagan’s spokesperson, James Brady, was declared dead by news networks after being hit by one of John Hinkley’s bullets. He’s still alive.
Remember President Thomas E. Dewey? In 1948, The Chicago Tribune named him the winner of the presidential election. He wasn’t. Harry Truman was elected to a full term.
These are just a few examples – the list of incorrect media stories could include hundreds of others.
As I’ve written before, journalists are under enormous pressure to report the latest information during a breaking news event. But as my former CNN colleague Bernard Kalb was fond of saying, “Get it first, but first get it second.” In other words, get the story first – but first, get a second source to confirm it.
What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Good stuff Brad! I remember those days working in the newsroom and the pressure to break news. What’s funny is that I think the everyday reader doesn’t really care who breaks the story – I think it’s more an in-house, bragging rights among other journalists type thing. I could be wrong, but that’s my opinion on it.
Who cares if your media organization got beat to the punch of breaking the story by 30 seconds or 30 minutes? As long as you get the story and do a great job reporting and informing your audience, they’re going to stay loyal to you.
It’s when you get an old-fashioned “scoop” that nobody else has and then drive the entire news cycle for 24 hours when it really matters.
For instance, you’ve just come to expect that TMZ will break celebrity news more often than not, and then the other outlets chase. That’s their bit.
But for a story like today’s SC ruling, we all knew the ruling was coming, so why rush to “be first” to post the result? Everyone is watching for it anyway, and it’s not like they’re flipping channels/web sites to see who “breaks” the ruling first.
Or are they? Tell me if I’m wrong!
Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment!
I agree with you that most viewers are content to put the television on and watch the news come in without flipping.
As for someone like me, who watches TV with my Twitter feed in hand, I am more likely to switch if I read that one of the networks is ahead of the others. But if a network is wrong, I’ll tune out in disgust. CNN’s error today was so unnecessary, that I’m likely to cancel my breaking news texts from them. This one was easy. They could have waited just 60 seconds and gotten this one right. And as for Jeffrey Toobin, who predicted the mandate would fall? A disastrous day for CNN all around.