CNN, Fox News err in covering Supreme Court health care ruling

The Supreme Court announced its ruling on the Affordable Care Act around 10:15 a.m. ET. CNN, which has been suffering in the ratings, and Fox both mistakenly reported that the individual mandate was struck down. Screenshots show the mistake and the subsequent change. Meanwhile, editor David Scott has told journalists at the AP to “stop taunting on social networks” about the mistakes. About 90 minutes after making the errors, CNN issued a correction that says it “regrets that it didn’t wait to report out the full and complete opinion regarding the mandate.” Fox later released a statement about its coverage. || Related: CNN memo: “We are not the story. The story is the story.” | Abrams warned of media mistakes before Supreme Court ruling | Justice Ginsburg cites Washington Post reporter in health care decision | Who was first with healthcare ruling depends on where you were looking | How SCOTUSblog prepared for today’s health care ruling

CNN reported on the air and online that the individual mandate was struck down, however that is not what the Supreme Court ruled. (Screenshot by C.W. Anderson)

CNN updated its breaking news banner with the correct information.
CNN also had a correction posted about the time President Obama would speak after @cnnbrk tweeted that he would speak soon after the ruling.
Fox News made the same mistake as CNN. (Screenshot by Jason Keath)

On the air, CNN’s reporter outside the court, Kate Bolduan, reported that the mandate had been struck down. She appeared to be relying on information phoned to her from inside the courtroom, by producer Bill Meers according to BuzzFeed’s Michael Hastings. CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer began debriefing John King and Dr. Sanjay Gupta about the impact of that decision, as a banner immediately declared the mandate invalid.

Meanwhile, on SCOTUSblog, Amy Howe posted, “Individual mandate survives as a tax.” It took CNN several minutes to begin the embarrassing task of walking back its inaccurate report. The banner was dropped and Blitzer began talking about the complex nature of the decision.

Even at 10:19, CNN seemed to be finding its footing on the story, reporting now with incremental information. The word “confusion” was used a good bit to describe the Justices’ decision, but really it described the network’s initial reporting.

The on-air gaffe was compounded by the network sending an erroneous email alert that arrived at 10:09 which read:

The Supreme Court has struck down the individual mandate for health care – the legislation that requires all to have health insurance.

It was followed at 10:18 by this:

Correction: The Supreme Court backs all parts of President Obama’s signature health care law, including the individual mandate that requires all to have health insurance.

CNN made the mistake on air, online, by email and on Twitter.

This series of tweets shows CNN’s mistake on the individual mandate and subsequent correction.

Later in the morning, CNN legal expert Jeffrey Toobin discussed the initial misreporting with John King. Toobin was in the court when the decision was read. He noted that at 10:06, Chief Justice John Roberts started reading the ruling. The first issue addressed was the commerce clause. Toobin said, “And he basically adopted, in its entirety, the opponents’ challenge to the law.” He added, “So, it looked for all the world like the Chief Justice was going to strike down the law.”

Julie Moos and Jill Geisler contributed to this report.

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  • Clayton Burns

    The opinion read by the C.J. could not be clearer. He signalled that he would turn to the merits, then he said specifically that we may “proceed to the merits.”

    On page 15:
    –The Government advances two theories for the proposition that Congress had constitutional authority to enact the individual mandate. First, the Government argues that Congress had the power to enact themandate under the Commerce Clause. Under that theory, Congress may order individuals to buy health insurance because the failure to do so affects interstate commerce, and could undercut the Affordable Care Act’s other reforms. Second, the Government argues that if the commerce power does not support the mandate, we should nonetheless uphold it as an exercise of Congress’s power to tax. According to theGovernment, even if Congress lacks the power to direct individuals to buy insurance, the only effect of the individual mandate is to raise taxes on those who do not do so, and thus the law may be upheld as a tax.–

    Not until page 27: The individual mandate forces individuals into commerce precisely because they elected to refrain from commercial activity. Such a law cannot be sustained under a clause authorizing Congress to “regulate Commerce.”

    I do not see how the Chief Justice could have made the structure of his opinion more transparent. By introducing all his occult factors, Toobin is making the law sound far more mysterious than it is.

  • Clayton Burns

    I would like to know if the Syllabus was released to the media with the ruling as soon as the reading began.

    If so, the errors are inexplicable because it says right on page 4 of the short syllabus that the individual mandate may be upheld.

    This is nicely cross-referenced.

    Not only did Toobin prime CNN reporters to misread the opinion, he continues (on John King’s USA Blog) to make pointless statements about how stunning the ruling was. What happened to his ears during the discussion of tax?

    4. CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Part III–C, concluding that the individual mandate may be upheld as within Congress’s power under the Taxing Clause. Pp. 33– 44.

  • Clayton Burns

    Extremely weird. So we still do not know how the CNN error happened.
    The idea that it looked for all the world as if the majority was going
    to strike down the law is nonsense. All you had to do was pay attention
    to the most elementary pointers to the logic, as explained above.

    As for CNN’s initial bungling of the ruling — the network initially reported that the mandate had been overturned — Toobin said he had no idea how that had come to pass, as he was in the courthouse for almost an hour while the justices read their decisions.

    “I was in the courtroom, I wasn’t involved,” he said. “I didn’t leave the courtroom until almost 11, and obviously we weren’t allowed to have electronics.”

    Politico: Jeff Toobin explains how CNN got it wrong

    My colleague Mackenzie Weinger has CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin’s
    explanation of why CNN initially reported that the individual mandate
    had been struck down.

    TOOBIN: …

    And he started reading and the first issue he addressed was the
    commerce clause — does Congress have the authority under the commerce
    clause to enact the individual mandate, the requirement that all
    Americans have insurance. And he basically adopted in its entirety the
    argument of the challengers to the law. He said this was outside the
    federal government’s power … So it looked to all the world, for all the
    world like the chief justice for the majority was going to strike down
    the law…

  • Clayton Burns

    NATIONAL FEDERATION OF INDEPENDENT BUSINESS v. SEBELIUS Syllabus4. CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Part III–C, concluding that the individual mandate may be upheld as within Congress’s power under the Taxing Clause. Pp. 33–44.
    I would like to know exactly how CNN “got it wrong.”
    I have noted some sloppy work in the legal opinions at the network websites, at ABC News, but I do not want to assume anything here.
    The way the syllabus is set out seems to be clear, with cross-referencing.
    Given that the syllabus is only six pages, it should have been possible to split it between six readers and get a precise fix on the content rapidly.
    However, there may have been other factors.
    It is fine to say that “CNN got it wrong,” but that does not really get us anywhere.
    An interesting control text is “Imagine” by Jonah Lehrer, especially on working memory.
    I can’t say that the Supreme Court has communicated its material in a clumsy way, unless we were to think in terms of quite different systems (which may well be appropriate someday), where the Supreme Court would initiate the Twitter work.
    We still don’t have the goods not only because we do not know precisely what went wrong, but also because we don’t know about limitations in education and practice for journalists that make such errors likely.
    From the oral perspective, if anyone with any legal skills listened in and made an error of that magnitude, that person should be fired.
    But I do not know what you would have to say to get fired from being a legal commentator. Apparently it is semi-impossible.

  • Randy L. Dryer

    We have now witnessed both the best and the worst of our new journalism environment where social media has elevated being first over being correct. 

  • Ken Satterfield

    How did Fox escape most of that review?

  • Poynter

     Laurence, Thanks for letting us know. That’s fixed. We had EST in one place, ET in others. –Julie Moos, Director of Poynter Online

  • Anonymous

    Poynter got the TIME wrong:  it was 10:15 Eastern DAYLIGHT Time, not Eastern STANDARD Time.

  • Anonymous

    it would be very instructive indeed to know EXACTLY on WHAT cnn and fox based their initial false reports. who/what was their alleged source?

  • James F. Smith Jr.

    Inept CNN. Incredibly irresponsible. Broke first rule of court reporting: read the decision before you interpret it. And then describes it as “confusion” rather than admitting its mistake.