CNN botches Supreme Court health care coverage

CNN botches Supreme Court health care coverage

One could forgive viewers if they walked away confused after watching CNN's early coverage of the Supreme Court's health care decision.

The network, itself, was confused.

Within minutes after the decision was announced, CNN was hitting the airwaves with four different versions of what the ruling said.

First, the network reported the justices had killed the individual mandate provision of the law -- perhaps its most controversial aspect.

Then, CNN reported the law "may have been upheld."

CNN switched its story once again, saying the individual mandate was "partly upheld, partly struck down."

Finally, 15 minutes after the ruling was announced, the network settled on what everyone else was reporting: That President Barack Obama's landmark health care law had been upheld. 

In addition to hitting the airwaves, the network also sent out two breaking news alerts.

• 10:09: The Supreme Court has struck down the individual mandate for health care - the legislation that requires all to have health insurance.

• 10:18: Correction: The Supreme Court backs all parts of President Obama's signature health care law, including the individual mandate that requires all to have health insurance.

Now, having covered courts for several years, I understand lengthy legal opinions are difficult to analyze quickly. And give CNN credit, once they realized the error, they quickly corrected it. But in such cases, it's best to wait and read the entire opinion before publishing.

The New York Times seemed to take this approach, tweeting: "The Supreme Court has ruled on President Obama's health-care overhaul, and Times reporters and editors are analyzing the decision. Once we are comfortable with its basic meaning, you can expect a torrent of coverage."


UPDATE: We were watching CNN in the newsroom, but readers tell me Fox News also botched the initial reporting of this story. Several of them sent me the above screen-grab.

SECOND UPDATE: CNN emailed me the following statement, explaining the initial confusion:

"In his opinion, Chief Justice Roberts initially said that the individual mandate was not a valid exercise of Congressional power under the Commerce Clause.  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."

Below is video of CNN's breaking coverage: