My chief criticism of cable coverage of breaking news is that the pressure to get it on the air immediately makes it impossible to check “facts” for accuracy, completeness, relevance and fairness. Both CNN had on-air talent reading the first page of a voluminous Supreme Court ruling on an issue with enormous stakes. In both cases, the reporter — while on the air — read a few lines (or listened to a producer talking into an earpiece) and started talking about the reversal of the Affordable Care Act.
Both were wrong, because the ruling’s first comment — about the “commerce clause,” was only half the story. A few more minutes of reading made it clear that the mandate was upheld, albeit under the government’s taxing powers.
CNN apologized. Fox used the excuse that they were shoveling the info out to the screen the second they got it. To my knowledge, this is the first time a cable executive has ever admitted that the network is willing to sacrifice accuracy for speed.
Note that by the end of the day — or even by lunch time, really — the facts had become clear. Meanwhile, there was nothing any of us could do with the “news” except tell somebody else. In short, it was a huge waste of time and emotional energy.
Here’s what Fox’s Vice President of News, Michael Clemente, had to say about its (lack of) responsibility:
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.