CNN Launching Internal Review To Get To Bottom Of Bad Supreme Court Reporting

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CNN promises to look into what went wrong during the course of its Supreme Court coverage Thursday, when the network erroneously reported that the health care reform law’s individual mandate was struck down.

“Today we failed to adhere to our own standard, namely it’s better to be right than to be first,” CNN Washington Bureau Chief Sam Feist said Thursday night, in a memo obtained by the Washington Post. “We take mistakes seriously, especially mistakes on such important stories. We are looking into exactly what happened and we will learn from it.”Shortly after 10 a.m. Thursday, CNN reported that the Supreme Court found the law’s individual mandate in violation of the Commerce Clause. True, but the court upheld the mandate under Congress’ taxing power. CNN stuck with its original report for close to 15 minutes.

“While this may be of little solace, it is worth noting that our coverage after 10:20am was very strong,” Feist said in the memo. “We covered the decision, the impact on the country, the impact on the presidential campaign, and the fallout. We covered it with our top reporters and analysts, with doctors, political leaders, attorneys, and most important — with ordinary citizens.”

Meredith Artley, CNN’s vice president and managing editor of digital, in a memo urged staff to stay strong. “We got it wrong and we take that very seriously. We are actively discussing this mistake, analyzing and learning from it,” she said in a separate memo, according to Poynter. “And we will carry on.”

The erroneous reports only compound the fact that CNN finds itself in a tough spot these days. Before Thursday, CNN was mostly in the headlines for its declining ratings. During the second quarter of 2012, the network’s ratings continued to slide, TV Newser reports. The network had its lowest-rated quarter in primetime in 21 years and its lowest-rated quarter in 11 years in Total Day, according to their report.

CNN spokeswoman Edie Emery told TPM that CNN takes its misreporting “very seriously” and said the memo speaks for itself. She declined to comment further.

Here’s Feist’s full memo:

From: Feist, Sam
Sent: Thu 6/28/2012 7:16 PM
To: *CNN DC Bureau (TBS)
Subject: Today’s Supreme Court Decision

I wanted to send a quick note about our reporting of the Supreme Court decision this morning.

As you all know by now, our initial reporting of the decision turned out to be wrong. Despite the best of intentions, we told our viewers and our online readers that the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act had been struck down when, in fact, it had not.

Today we failed to adhere to our own standard, namely it’s better to be right than to be first. We take mistakes seriously, especially mistakes on such important stories. We are looking into exactly what happened and we will learn from it.

When we realized what happened, we owned up to the mistake, corrected on air, corrected on line, and corrected in social media. Our organization has also been entirely transparent about what happened and why. I wanted to make sure that you have seen CNN’s statement which is linked here: http://on.cnn.com/ODkjjT

While this may be of little solace, it is worth noting that our coverage after 10:20am was very strong. We covered the decision, the impact on the country, the impact on the presidential campaign, and the fallout. We covered it with our top reporters and analysts, with doctors, political leaders, attorneys, and most important — with ordinary citizens.

And we covered today’s Contempt of Congress proceedings exceedingly well.

Today was a historic day in Washington. We have much to be proud of but also some important lessons to reflect on.

Thanks for everything you do.
Sam

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Taintor is a news editor at Talking Points Memo. Previously, he worked at NBC News and Adweek. He's a native of Minnesota. Reach him at taintor@talkingpointsmemo.com.
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