The principle of truth and accuracy in journalism require journalists to focus on getting the facts right (Harcup, 2015). Before reporting a story, as “breaking news,” for instance, journalists are expected to get their facts accurately and report the information in a fair and impartial manner. In an era where speed matters a lot when it comes to news reporting, however, new reporters including those from mainstream media outlets often get it wrong concerning the accuracy of their reporting. As evidenced in Case 9-A, media outlets often find themselves in the receiving end for inaccurate and misleading reporting. CNN and Fox, mistake of reporting that the Supreme Court had struck down the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, while the court in a 5-4 opinion had ruled in favor of upholding the Affordable Care Act is a perfect example of how inaccurate reporting might lead to backlash (Wilkins, n.d.). While it took CNN about 12 minutes to correct its initial inaccurate reporting that Supreme Court had killed Obamacare, the 12 minutes seemed like an eternity for CNN and Fox which had misreported the court decision (Voorhees, & Keith, 2015). Though CNN later apologized for the inaccurate reporting, the damage had already been done. Concerning the erroneous reporting and the repercussions that come with these mistakes, this paper seeks to address the issues raised in the end case objectively.
The first issue being addressed in this paper is whether CNN, Fox and other media outlets should have treated the much-awaited Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act as a breaking news story. Goldstein argues that mainstream media houses and their reporters got it wrong by treating the court decision as breaking news story as the law itself was not going to come into effect until 2014. While the reporting on the Supreme Court ruling on Affordable Care had some elements of a breaking story, the fact that the issue invowas complex and was going to take effect two years later implies that CNN and Fox should have focused on facts as opposed to the speed of their reporting.
Given that court had not yet fully delivered its decision on whether Affordable Care Act was going to stay or to be struck down, the journalists should have indicated to their editors that they are yet to grasp the content of the written ruling fully. It was a mistake merely relying on the Commerce Clause in deciding that the court had struck down the law (Wilkins n.d.). The editors should have sought for more clarity whether indeed the Supreme Court had struck down the Affordable Care Act. Though there was the urgency of getting the story out as fast as possible, understanding the decision more correctly was more important. A little skimming over the document by reading the first sentence of every paragraph would have helped in getting a more accurate position of the judges.
Upon learning that they had erred in reporting the Supreme Court had struck down the Obamacare, CNN and Fox news should have offered an apology immediately for the mistake and declare the correct verdict as reported by other news outlets. In their apology, the news outlets should have highlighted the fact that they had focused much on the Commerce Clause when reporting that the court had struck down the act.
Since there had been a lot of divided opinion on the possible outcome of the case, reporting of the court decision should have been left explicitly to journalists with years of experience in reporting court decisions. Looking at how CNN and Fox focused on getting the story out as opposed to the facts and accuracy of the reporting, it can be argued that the two media houses got their priorities upside down. In the process of focusing much on reaching out as many people as possible, CNN and Fox forgot about the complexity of understanding the decision of the court in a matter of seconds. For SCOTUS blog, an experienced outlet for reporting court decisions, the focus was on getting it right as opposed to being the first to report the verdict of the court. As such, the matter of informing the decision of the court should have been left to journalists with rich expertise on legal issues.
Truthful and accurate reporting of facts is one of the fundamental principles of ethical journalism. Not only are news reporters expected to ensure that the information there are reporting is correct, they also have to ensure that they transmit it faithfully and impartially. As observed by Goldstein, “all journalists should have put more in the accuracy of the wires on this story.” In the era of information age, however, determining the accuracy of the news reporting is often hard. Most often, blogs copy from internet sources as it was the case with Huff Post without establishing the authenticity of their information. Concerning this, one can determine the accuracy of the information being reported by seeing whether a reporter had quoted any sources. The use of questionable headlines with multiple errors might also offer a clue into gauging whether if the information being reported is accurate. For instance, CNN’s headline “Supreme Court Finds Health Care Individual Mandate Unconstitutional” offers some clues on the accuracy of the news reporting. For an ordinary viewer, it is difficult to deduce the exact meaning of the above headline.
Journalists are expected at all times to exercise due diligence before reporting any story. Besides accurate reporting, journalists are supposed to maintain a high level of objectivity when reporting news from the field. Therefore, it is essential that the journalists who misreported the decision of the court to be subjected to disciplinary action. Possible disciplinary action includes suspension of the journalists in question from work for some weeks. Other possible disciplinary that reporters that mislead with inaccurate reporting include placement under the close supervision of senior personnel for a certain period.
Although Fox News is famous for its conservative views concerning, it is not possible to come into conclusion that the news outlet deliberately misreported the Supreme Court decision to appeal to its political right fan base. The complexity of the nature of the matter in question offers a more sensible explanation for Fox News’ misreporting that the court had struck down the Affordable Care Act while in reality, it had decided to uphold it in a 5-4 decision Shapiro, I., (Brin, Bédard-Brûlé, & Mychajlowycz, 2013). As explained by Goldstein, the biggest mistake that Fox News and CNN made in reporting the court decision was placing much focus on speed as opposed to getting the facts right. However, this does not mean that the initial claims that Fox deliberately misquoted the court decision to suit its political ideology.
While the CNN made an erroneous mistake when it reported that the Supreme Court had struck down the Affordable Care Act while in reality the law had been saved by the ruling, I don’t think this mistake offers enough explanation for the resignation of the head of CNN. There is a possibility that the departure coincided with the happening of the misreporting. There could be other issues of incompetence or disciplinary matters that could have contributed to the resignation. While the error came with lots of reputational risks on the side of the company, the resignation of the head of CNN does not seem necessary to correct the blunder.
Concerning the different values of speed, profit, and accuracy, I think all the three issues make a lot of sense in the operations of media outlets (Friend, & Singer, 2015). In an era where information spreads first via social media platforms and over the internet, speed matters a lot of journalists and media outlets. The ability to report breaking stories in real time has the potential of affecting a company’s profits. Those media outlets with a reputation of being first in breaking essential stories often receive much viewership compared to those that copy from other outlets. Nevertheless, the principle of truth and accurate, ethical journalism require news reporters to pay more attention to objective reporting of stories. In other words, accuracy should take precedence over speed and profits.
Whether deliberate or accidental, inaccurate and misleading reporting is a crucial issue in journalism. Apart from reputational risk, other concerns come with erroneous reporting. The uncertainty created by misleading reporting is one of the risks that is associated with inaccurate reporting. For this reason, it is imperative to ensure that accuracy takes precedence over speed and profit. The backlash that comes from misleading reporting has the potential for shaking the foundation of media outlets. Therefore, there is a need to balance speed and accuracy in reporting news reporting as both have the possibility of the reputation of a media outlet.
Harcup, T. (2015). Journalism: principles and practice. Sage.
Friend, C., & Singer, J. (2015). Online Journalism Ethics: Traditions and Transitions:
Traditions and Transitions. Routledge.
Shapiro, I., Brin, C., Bédard-Brûlé, I., & Mychajlowycz, K. (2013). Verification as a strategic
ritual: How journalists retrospectively describe processes for ensuring accuracy. Journalism Practice, 7(6), 657-673.
Voorhees, S., & Keith, S. (2015). The Fast and the Erroneous: Journalism’s Reaction to CNN’s
Misreporting of a SCOTUS Decision. Electronic News, 9(2), 91-107.
Wilkins, L. (n.d.). New Now, Facts Later. University of Missouri