The Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate today for reasons, and with reverberating effects, that will take at least the next few hours (if not days or weeks) to fully explain. But in a rush to get the news out, CNN and Fox News wrongly reported on the spot that Obamacare was ruled unconstitutional. The justices did no such thing, opting to keep the mandate as a tax, and watching the talking heads attempt to parse the specifics of the ruling in real time was some of the most confusing live television imaginable. The mix-up occurred online, too, at sites like CNN.com and Drudge Report, where “Struck Down” and “Mandate Gone” headlines and tweets were soon scrapped in favor of the truth. (Republican politicians were also forced to delete their messages of victory.) Today is truly a historic day: We now have a “Dewey Defeats Truman” to call our own.
Update: CNN has apologized in a statement for its screw-up:
“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.”
Meanwhile, an anonymous CNN staffer tells Buzzfeed, “Fucking humiliating,” and adds, “We had a chance to cover it right. And some people in here don’t get what a big deal getting it wrong is. Morons.”
But an AP editor chimed in and ordered to his staff to chill with the gloating. “Please, immediately, stop taunting on social networks about CNN and others’ SCOTUS ruling mistake and the AP getting it right,” David Scott e-mailed his team, as reported by Romenesko. “That’s not the impression we want to reflect as an organization. Let our reporting take the lead.”
Fox News has issued a statement as well, but doesn’t quite own up to fumbling:
We gave our viewers the news as it happened. When Justice Roberts said, and we read, that the mandate was not valid under the Commerce clause, we reported it. Bill Hemmer even added, be patient as we work through this. Then when we heard and read, that the mandate could be upheld under the government’s power to tax, we reported that as well—all within two minutes.
By contrast, one other cable network was unable to get their Supreme Court reporter to the camera, and said as much. Another said it was a big setback for the President. Fox reported the facts, as they came in.
Both networks managed to fool President Obama, who believed the mandate to be dead until, but remained “calm,” until he was updated with the correct info. See the on-air confusion for yourself in our video here: