The Three Other Fools in SCOTUSblog's Health Care Tick-Tock

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
July 9 2012 9:25 AM

The Three Other Fools in SCOTUSblog's Health Care Tick-Tock

Tom Goldstein's full-heave tick-tock about the reporting of the PPACA decision is a must-read for any lover of Schadenfreude. Goldstein portrays his SCOTUSblog -- fairly, I'd say -- as a ship-shape, well-sourced dreadnought staffed by pros. The reporters at Bloomberg come off well, too, because they nail the story right away. And because Bloomberg (and Reuters) write breaking news that moves markets, investors know who to trust, too.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

The rest of you people, though... ugh. CNN's full screw-up is told in full, with producer Bill Mears trying to bail out anchors after the first bad call, to no avail. It's just as interesting to learn who just relied on CNN and made mistakes. The White House, according to Goldstein, was bailed out by a SCOTUSblog press conference.

The announcements on CNN and Fox News in Carney’s office have been the first news of the decision, and both report that the mandate had been invalidated. Although the wire services have already reported the decision correctly, the communications team is not aware of those reports.
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Why not rely on Bloomberg, though? Because cable news* has a supernatural, strange influence in political reporting. A lot of Twitter "news," sadly, is just a regurgitation of what networks have reported on the screens above tweeters' desks. To wit:

[W]ord from CNN’s hyper-efficient social media effort is spreading like wildfire. BuzzFeed’s political reporter Zeke Miller (16,781 followers) retweets the Boston Globe’s Matt Viser (3,601 followers) who retweets from the producer of the Situation Room:  “CNN BREAKING — THE MANDATE HAS BEEN STRUCK DOWN.”

And a worse example, one that embarasses the grandaddy of aggregation.

Back at the Court, the Huffington Post’s reporter, Mike Sacks, has not yet filed a story on the ruling.  Their social media team does not wait, however.  Taking the news from CNN without attribution, it tweets – “BREAKING: Individual mandate has been ruled unconstitutional by Supreme Court.”

Read the whole piece, which explains exactly how reporters got the decision (which was temporarily impossible to access online, and could only be parsed on paper), but soak in that lesson about "BREAKING NEWS." This screw-up, admittedly, didn't have the impact that the networks' botched Florida calls had in 2000. But it should probably spur the same kind of rethink. Is "I saw it on TV" really enough for you to tweet BREAKING news? Is a document that everyone will have access to really BREAKING news, to be reported breathlessly, like tank movements in a war zone?

*I'm an MSNBC contributer and, you could guess, proud of how the network nailed the story. But even some people in cable wonder why Washington is so obsessed with the daily gaffe-trade-off that feeds the cycles.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.