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Dewey Defeats Truman

CNN, which is in the midst of some tough primetime ratings, did not do itself any favors Thursday morning, jumping the gun on the hotly anticipated health care decision out of the Supreme Court both on air and online.

Fox News Channel also did its own gun-jumping, although CNN was getting most of the attention Thursday, with a photo being passed around the ‘net of President Obama holding an iPad with the incorrect CNN headline Photoshopped onto the famous Dewey Defeats Truman picture.

The speed of electronic journalism ran into the denseness of legal opinion, causing those news networks to report that the centerpiece of the Obama health care law, the individual mandate, had been struck down, which would have been a big win for Republicans. Instead, it turns out the mandate was upheld, which was a big win for the Administration. Oops.

Here is the history of a tweet campaign that failed.


BREAKING NEWS: #SCOTUS struck down individual mandate for #healthcare. #CNN


Supreme Court strikes down individual mandate portion of health care law.


Hold on everybody. Hold on. Let’s keep reading.


Supreme Court UPHOLDS individual mandate & #Obama Health Care law. Earlier reports that it was struck down were incorrect., which said that it was on a conference call with numerous news outlets as it live blogged from the court, got it right, saying the mandate had been upheld as a tax.

The confusion was that Chief Justice John Roberts, reading the opinion, said that the mandate could not be upheld under the Commerce Clause, as the Administration had argued it could. But that was essentially mooted by the 5-4 decision that the mandate could be Constitutional under Congress’ taxing authority.

CNN sent its regrets that it did not wait to digest the opinion.

“In his opinion, Chief Justice Roberts initially said that the individual mandate was not a valid exercise of Congressional power under the Commerce Clause,” said CNN in a statement. “CNN reported that fact, but then wrongly reported that therefore the court struck down the mandate as unconstitutional. However, that was not the whole of the Court’s ruling. CNN regrets that it didn’t wait to report out the full and complete opinion regarding the mandate. We made a correction within a few minutes and apologize for the error.”

A CNN source on background said that the on-air correction was made at 10:14:30, as well as online and via social media. In the wake of the confusion, The Sunlight Foundation sent out a list of some tweets from Republican legislators celebrating their victory before having to rescind all that celebration. Sunlight, in its email, attributed it to CNN misreporting, but conceded to B&C that that was based on its assumption they were prompted by CNN, and before they learned of the Fox miscue.

Lesson: Everybody makes mistakes. So, let’s be more careful out there. Electrons can sometimes move faster than our ability to organize them into accurate bundles of info.