When First Is Last

Credit: CNN.com

CNN and Fox News scooped other media outlets early yesterday when the Supreme Court announced its landmark health care opinion. Unfortunately in their rush to the break the news both stations simply got it wrong. What took an hour to correct on air would quickly become a side-story for media pundits and comedians throughout the day and would shed new light on the battle to be first in a 24 hour news cycle.

CNN later apologized in a statement saying it ““regrets that it didn’t wait to report out the full and complete opinion regarding the mandate.’’ Fox, however, stuck by its reporting according to an Associated Press interview with network executive Michael Clemente who stated, “Fox reported the facts, as they came in.”


So what happened? In short, news became a game show. It was a scene pulled straight from The Family Feud. Teams were ready, hands on the buzzer, as staffers poured over the 193-page document, searching for clear cut statements and only finding endless legalese. Who would be first to decipher page after page of legalese and hit upon the nugget that stated the opinion? CNN and Fox buzzed in together and gave their answer as President Obama was glued to the television.

As the news was incorrectly reported, other media outlets held back. According to the AP, they and Bloomberg News first reported the correct opinion just after 10AM EST, followed by Reuters and the SCOTUSblog as The New York Times blogged that they were further analyzing the opinion until they were satisfied that they could report it correctly. That came at 10:20AM EST.

The Scoop

In the news business the scoop has historically been the ultimate prize. Viewers of Aaron Sorkin’s new HBO drama, ‘The Newsroom’, will be familiar with the scoop after watching last week’s episode when the fictional staffers are the first to realize and secure interviews regarding the extent of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Edgar’s face was reattached by a reconstructive veterinary surgeon. PHOTO: Brian Adams

Public relations professionals are also familiar with the scoop as they work to tie their clients’ stories to breaking news. When an earthquake struck Boston last summer, evacuees from the downtown buildings were milling about while I was on the phone to the AP explaining my first hand account while working at United Way. When it was announced that Steve Jobs had passed away, I was drafting a quote from my CEO describing how iPads were helping children learn in and out of school. When the world was focused on the upcoming face transplant of a female patient at a Boston hospital, I was with the AP the day before, in a surgical suite as one of the national’s leading veterinary surgeons reattached a cat’s face that had been peeled off in a horrific accident. It was when, as a young reporter for a weekly paper, I had the only interviews to uncover a major embezzlement case at a nonprofit, and sat on it until press time to finally beat out the regional daily.

If you are in any way part of creating news media, you felt that rush when you own the scoop and with one eye on the clock you package the information for consumption. You also felt the gravity of being the first to file the report, share the story, and take center stage. Having been there hundreds of times, I understand the balance between filing first and accurate reporting. Yesterday we saw what happens when the competitiveness takes center stage. Fortunately, we also read accurate reports filed by multiple outlets that took the extra minutes necessary to better inform the public.

What are your thoughts after watching conflicting news reports yesterday?


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