Aftermath of CNN/Fox debacle on Supreme Court: No reason to rush; many reasons to lose trust

The rush to report.

Being first more important than being correct.

These are sometimes the hallmark of television news.  Newsrooms and journalism schools across the land should use yesterday’s unbelievable gaffes by CNN and Fox News as teaching moments.

Within the newsrooms of CNN and Fox news, all staffers should have to sit and look at the Poynter website’s collection of screen shots from network websites and tweets:

On the other hand, watch Rachel Maddow’s segment to learn how a little blog did a better job than the Fox/CNN media giants – another lesson for journalists and for the public:


As Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart said, “No sympathy, CNN.”

AP reports that Fox wouldn’t admit its error:  “Fox executive vice president of news and editorial, was unapologetic. “We gave our viewers the news as it happened,” he said.” And AP offered advice from one who got it right by going just a tad slower:

ABC’s Terry Moran had less than a minute to look at the decision before he was talking on the air to anchor George Stephanopoulos and he briefly vamped for time, saying “I’m just taking a quick look at it.”

Describing the difficulty of the process in an interview, he said, “you have to be confident enough to say, ‘I don’t know.'”

In this case, Moran quickly spotted that Roberts had decided the case in agreement with the court’s liberal justices, a sign that it was highly unlikely the health care law had been overturned. ABC did bobble one fact initially, incorrectly saying the court’s decision was by a 6-3 vote instead of 5-4.

Moran said Thursday’s lesson to journalists should be “slow down.”

“I actually think the audience is much more interested in understanding than in seeing who finishes first in this case,” he said. “In this day and age, there are few true scoops. … On an event like this, take a breath.”

screenshot from January 7, 2009

We all – journalists and consumers – must learn from such historic errors. I will always remember Marquette basketball coach Al McGuire saying, “You have to learn from losing.  Only a fool loses and doesn’t learn from it.”  Let’s not forget this was not an isolated case. In 2003, I wrote – as did Chris Mooney and others – about live coverage by CNN, Fox and MSNBC of a press conference held by  “a company linked to the UFO-obsessed Raelian sect (which) announced the birth of the world’s first cloned baby.”

No cloned baby by an extraterrestrial fan club.

No Supreme Court overturning of the mandate.

No reason to rush.

Many reasons to lose trust.

Will anyone learn from this?

The Photoshopped picture of President Obama (credit to Gary He) on President Truman’s body, recreating one of the previous historic journalistic rush to errors, is now available, suitable for framing in CNN, Fox, and newsrooms across the land – and deservedly so.


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Alan Timmerman

July 2, 2012 at 4:36 pm

Sometime I watch FOX for “infortainment” when I have nothing else to do and there is nothing else worth watching elsewhere on TV