CNN’s ‘Dewey Defeats Truman’ moment–getting the court ruling wrong

CNN was left with egg on its face and some explaining to do on Thursday, after erroneously reporting the biggest Supreme Court case in 12 years.

As the Supreme Court released its opinion for Florida v. Department of Health and Human Services, the much-watched challenge to President Barack Obama’s health care reform law, CNN incorrectly proclaimed that “the Supreme Court has struck down the individual mandate for health care.”

Fox News also briefly reported that the court found the mandate unconstitutional.

In reality, the court found the individual mandate unconstitutional on commerce clause grounds but constitutional as a tax. So the mandate survived.

CNN also reported this statement on TV (image from here):

However, reporters from SCOTUSblog, a top source for Supreme Court reporting, made it clear that in fact, the Supreme Court had upheld the mandate.

Starting at 10:10 a.m. EST, SCOTUSblog’s live blog reported:

“So the mandate is constitutional. Chief Justice Roberts joins the left of the Court.”

“The Medicaid provision is limited but not invalidated.”

“The bottom line: the entire ACA is upheld, with the exception that the federal government’s power to terminate states’ Medicaid funds is narrowly read.”

CNN quickly updated its home page with a correction:

CNN’s error hearkens back to 1948, when the Chicago Tribune incorrectly reported that candidate Thomas Dewey defeated the real winner, Harry Truman. The image of President-Elect Truman gleefully holding the inaccurately headlined newspaper has become an icon for media mistakes.

But this isn’t just a major blow to CNN’s credibility. It’s also a cautionary tale of the perils of a media cycle so frenzied it reports the news not only without any meaningful analysis, but also without accuracy–and before the news even happens.

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