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The Cold Filtered Ramblings of Gene Mueller

Get it first...or get it right?

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Anyone spending enough time in front of a live mike is going to make a mistake.  No one is perfect in this business. 

I've prematurely killed people.  I've mispronounced the names of countless world leaders, national politicians and, back in the day when I read obits in Stevens Point, the freshly local dead (Polish names + young broadcaster = on-air mayhem). 

And, when you screw up, the best thing to do is a) fix it and b) own it.

Enter Fox News.

Fox and CNN both got it wrong Thursday morning, mistakenly reporting that the Supreme Court struck down the individual mandate, a key component of President Obama's health care reform plan.   It took a few minutes for the truth to come out, that the high bench had, indeed, done no such thing and was allowing the law to stand intact.

Big oops.

In the rush to be first, reporters for the two networks apparently didn't read the whole argument.   They saw what Roberts had to say about the mandate but didn't take in his whole opinion.   Both networks did a): fix it.  Only one did b): CNN owned it, saying it "regrets that it didn't wait to report out the full and complete opinion...we made a correction within a few minutes and apologize for the error."


Fox isn't owning it, and isn't sorry.  Executive VP of news/editorial Michael Clemente tells the LA Times, "Our job is to share the news as we learn we were hearing it, and as we were reading it, we let our viewers know about it.  You don't have to wait until the conclusion of the Yankees game to give the score."

Yes, but you don't tell folks that a 5-3 New York lead in the bottom of the 3rd is the final score which is EXACTLY what Fox did.

There's getting it first, and then there's getting it right.  Back when I was a snot-nosed high school radio lackey in Sheboygan, our news director went on vacation and left me in charge.   "Accuracy...and brevity.   Accuracy...and brevity.   Accuracy...and brevity" is what he typed three times in capitol letters on a hunk of teletype paper before hanging it right over the typewriter I'd be using while he was gone (it was the 70's, folks).   I'm sure other cub reporters had the same mantra pounded into them early in their careers by mentors or professors on their way to full time employment.

Mistakes get made, though, often when trying to be first.   Today, no one is remembering who had the initial take on the Supreme Court.   They know who got it right, and they remember who got it wrong.

Nuanced stories like the ruling on health care are full of potential pratfalls for fools who rush in and reach conclusions before digesting every word.   Fox screwed up--mistake number one.  Fox then tried rationalizing sloppy journalism with a trite sports analogy.   

Cable news already gets bashed for being anything but "news"--some networks are seen as nothing more than echo chambers, places where viewers come to get their opinions reinforced rather than challenged by balanced reporting.   Two of them did nothing to burnish their image with the way they initially handled one of the year's big stories yesterday.

And, one wrapped it self in further shame by rationalizing it's miscue instead of owning it.




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