June 28, 2012

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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Jeff Sonderman (jsonderman@poynter.org) is the Digital Media Fellow at The Poynter Institute. He focuses on innovations and strategies for mobile platforms and social media in…
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