Me-First Media Blow a Really Big One This Time
Around the State
In the race to be first, CNN, FOX, NPR, TIME, HuffPo -- and some newspapers in Florida -- all got the Obamacare decision story wrong before they got it right.
Probably the most important United States Supreme Court ruling of our generation -- wrong.
Debate all you want who the political winners and losers were on Thursday. What isn't open for discussion is the embarrassing, tabloid behavior of media giants with a combined global readership of 1 billion.
And, while the giants of the news industry scored the highest on the laugh-o-meter, even here in Florida the twittersphere was a-tinkle in Obamacare-Is-Unconstitutional tweets, including in the Tampa Bay Times and the Palm Beach Post.
Sneer at me if you want, but I don't think we have to be first. I don't think people care. It means nothing in this age when information is virtually instantaneous. What does "first" mean these days anyway? A few seconds?
What if, when the media get a big story, they take a breath and make sure they have it right before they unleash it on their their unsuspecting readers, viewers, listeners?
In pre-Twitter 1948 the Chicago Tribune's "Dewey Defeats Truman" headline was so outlandish, such a crazy blunder to see on page 1, it turned the Tribune into a national joke -- and I mean for decades. Today it still would be funny, but imagine how many other media outlets would have been guilty of the same screw-up.
Sometimes these days, media defend their botch-ulisms. Take FOX News, which, like CNN, went with hearsay. Michael Clemente, Fox executive vice president of news and editorial, was unapologetic later. "We gave our viewers the news as it happened ... Fox reported the facts, as they came in."
Misinformation on big stories doesn't raise many eyebrows. Why? Because it happens almost every time there's a big story. It happens because Twitter makes everybody with a cell phone -- no matter how reckless -- a newsman.
How many people noticed the confusion reported last Monday when the Supreme Court was handing down its decision on Arizona's controversial illegal immigration law? Within minutes of the decision, websites had their headlines up -- even the ones that weren't sure whether key parts of the law were upheld or struck down. Take a look at this photo display of some of them.
How many people even remember that Penn State Coach Joe Paterno was reported dead days ahead of his actual death on Jan. 22, 2012, because a student newspaper reported it? The story was picked up thanks to an email to the paper that turned out to be a hoax. But, never mind. In the rush to be first, more than a dozen news organizations, including CBS, picked up the irresistibly juicy story -- yes, from a student newspaper, no less, because they couldn't take the time to check it out -- and within minutes reported it as fact.
How many remember that National Public Radio triggered excruciating pain by issuing a false news report saying Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, shot Jan. 8, 2011, during an assasination attempt at a supermarket near Tuscon, Ariz., had died? The story was repeated on npr.org, email alerts, Twitter and picked up by other news organizations. Sadly, it was a distraught member of the Giffords family, waiting outside the operating room while she was fighting for her life, who had to pick up the phone and ask NPR to please stop reporting that "Gabby" had died.
With cell phones and social media and increased pressures to find a competitive edge in news reporting, gaffes like the ones associated with Thursday's Obamacare ruling are only going to increase.
News is a fast-moving business. The humans who work in it do the best they can most of the time. But the mistakes they make should be rare and should be scrutinized, on each occasion. That's probably the best we can hope for.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at (850) 727-0859.