The Media Blitz: Healthcare Ruling Sparks Confusion 22

By Sam Hamilton (@SamJHamilton)

I’ve been known to, on occasion, overzealously hit “tweet” too soon. I haven’t reread my message and there will be some verb confusion, a missing link or an incorrect username. Thankfully, my 311 loyal followers don’t seem to follow me close enough to screenshot my mistakes and broadcast them to the world.

However, if you switch out @SamJHamilton for @[Insert Congressman Here], well, that becomes a different story. And when you switch out a Twitter message for CNN and Fox News’ homepage and major headline, well, that becomes a very different story.

Last week marked a landmark decision in healthcare: President Obama’s dream of an individual mandate was crushed. Oh, wait. That’s not right! No, actually, the individual mandate, and the vast majority of the Affordable Care Act, were found to be constitutional and were upheld by the Supreme Court. But, if you were watching or reading CNN or Fox News, you got a very different picture of the Supreme Court’s decision.

Both outlets incorrectly reported that the individual mandate had been struck down. In the media blitz to be the first to report the Supreme Court’s decision, both CNN and Fox News got the story completely wrong. This stereotypical “teachable moment” shows us something important: being the first to report the news of the day isn’t always the most important thing. If they had waited an extra minute, both outlets would have heard the rest of Chief Justice Robert’s opinion before calling in the wrong facts to their editors outside the courthouse.

This case of ill-reporting begs an important question: as a consumer of news, what’s more important to you, getting the fastest news or the most accurate news?

And it turns out that CNN and Fox News weren’t the only ones who were a little too quick on the draw that morning. Six politicians made Twitter-flubs as well. Notably, Dennis Ross, a Republican Congressman from Florida, tweeted to his 4,000+ followers: “Individual Mandate ruled unconstitutional. Let Freedom Ring.”

While all parties involved quickly deleted their tweets, nothing can really stay hidden when it comes to Twitter. As a public figure, there is undoubtedly someone watching and paying attention to your Twitter stream, especially for a decision as monumental as the one that happened last week.

For the public relations world, there’s a great deal to be gleaned from these reporting faux pas. Namely, make sure you have the correct information before tweeting or posting anything. Yes, being the first to get out a piece of news is undoubtedly tempting. However, it’s much more important to make sure you have the correct news now to keep egg off your face later.

In terms of the news media, do you think that our current media blitz country is diminishing the quality of journalism?

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