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Getting It Quick v. Getting It Right

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Brian Stelter at the NYT has this story on the initial misreporting of the health care decision on both CNN and Fox News Channel.  On Fox, the error was corrected "a moment later," but CNN continued to report the wrong result for six minutes.

The source of the error was that reporters jumped to the result from the fact that a majority rejected the Commerce Clause as a basis for the individual mandate, which everyone expected to be the main battle.  (James Taranto has this column at the WSJ on Justice Ginsburg's "bitter concurrence" on this point.)  They didn't wait for the decision on the alternative theory that the mandate is a tax.

This isn't the first time major news media have gotten it wrong.  It isn't even the first time this week.  As Bill and I noted Monday, the AP report on the juvenile LWOP case, Miller v. Alabama, was seriously wrong.  Even worse, because everyone was focused on the Arizona case, it didn't get corrected with near the speed of Thursday's faux pas.  Late in the day, I was still seeing the wrong report on major newspaper web sites.
Since becoming a blogger and hence a "journalist" of sorts, I have become more aware of the pressures involved.  If you wait to publish something until you have checked with the thoroughness that you check an appellate brief, the news cycle and the public interest will have moved on, and what you write will be irrelevant and largely unread.  Some balance has to be struck.  The occasional typo or incorrect hypertext link is a necessary result of a need for timeliness.  On the other hand, sacrificing reliability on the basic facts just to be a fraction of a minute ahead of competitors seems pretty pointless to me.  Consider this quote from the NYT piece:

Several wire services, in fact, reported correctly that the mandate had been upheld before CNN and Fox News reported that it had been struck down. Bloomberg said that it broke the news 12 seconds before Reuters and 25 seconds before The Associated Press.
Well, congratulations, Bloomberg.  Twelve seconds!  Yes, you got it right and a fifth of a minute ahead of your nearest competitor, but is the time difference really anything to crow about?  Is it even worth keeping track of (as you obviously did)?

People who report on events, both real journalists and sorta-journalists like me, need to apply the concept of materiality here.  Some time differences are material and some aren't.  This is not a horse race where being a nose ahead of the competitor matters, and such small differences are not worth sacrificing reliability.

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