CNN, Fox, Obamacare and ‘Dewey Defeats Truman’


As if the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision today on the Affordable Care Act, aka ‘Obamacare,’ weren’t huge enough, CNN and Fox reported it first — and wrong.

The stakes were enormous. A charged political atmosphere surrounded health-care reform and the decision included the surprise of how the High Court split.

Thus it was probably inevitable that CNN’s rush to judgment would invoke President Harry S Truman’s defeat of New York Gov. Thomas Dewey — which the Chicago Tribune reversed in an infamous headline.

And, with the miracles of Photoshop, that we’d get President Obama’s head over Truman’s grinning face with the headline, instead of Dewey Defeats Truman, CNN’s Mandate Struck Down.

Does this form a crisis, per se, or just a memorable joke and side story for CNN and Fox, which either reached the same faulty conclusion on its own or copied CNN’s error?

Hard to say. News organizations, so-called, rise and fall on credibility. Less so in cable TV, which smudges the line between news and entertainment daily. This mess, based on the first line of the majority opinion that went on for pages, was a journalistic screwup of immense proportions, especially under the circumstances.

But one must sympathize, in a world of Twitterized chop phrases, for the poor CNN producer who called the wrong winner. He will likely be looking for work at a regional cable network in Western North Dakota by tomorrow.

But one aspect of the speed of the 24/7 news cycle is how fast it can correct itself. The Trib had to wait 24 agonizing hours to fix its faux pas, while probably selling out all its newspapers that day to readers realizing what a collector’s item it was. For CNN on a tablet, the bad call will be forever accessible on the internet, but the correction came in minutes.

There are enough CNN [and Fox] haters that their reputations will take another bullet hole, but in the long-run no one’s losing sleep over this crisis.

Here’s how Jon Stewart handled it on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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