When you run the type of website that I do, you are required (for better or for worse) to pay attention to the media. Although I admit I absolutely refuse to watch Fox News (well there was that one time during this past election), it doesn’t mean I don’t come into contact with the channel’s content every now and then. So when Poynter put out its annual list announcing the ‘Error of the Year’ in media, it didn’t come as a shock when the organization announced Fox News along with CNN as the winner.
The error that gave them the win was the story involving the Affordable Care Act individual mandate.
Here’s how Poynter reported the story:
There’s another important reason I elevated this to Error of the Year. It relates to what happened after the initial mistake.
After CNN and Fox News were criticized and mocked, they each made public statements.
In his opinion, Chief Justice Roberts initially said that the individual mandate was not a valid exercise of Congressional power under the Commerce Clause. CNN reported that fact, but then wrongly reported that therefore the court struck down the mandate as unconstitutional. However, that was not the whole of the Court’s ruling. CNN regrets that it didn’t wait to report out the full and complete opinion regarding the mandate. We made a correction within a few minutes and apologize for the error.Fox News:
We gave our viewers the news as it happened. When Justice Roberts said, and we read, that the mandate was not valid under the Commerce clause, we reported it. Bill Hemmer even added, be patient as we work through this. Then when we heard and read, that the mandate could be upheld under the government’s power to tax, we reported that as well—all within two minutes.Same mistake made at the same time, and yet only one news outlet apologized.
By contrast, one other cable network was unable to get their Supreme Court reporter to the camera, and said as much. Another said it was a big setback for the President. Fox reported the facts, as they came in.
As Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman explained at the time, “Fox’s statement says it ‘reported the facts’ when in fact Fox, like CNN, misinterpreted the facts. CNN owned its error when it said it leapt from reporting Roberts’ words to ‘therefore the court struck down the mandate as unconstitutional.’ Fox is saying its interpretation was a fact. Not quite.”
CNN demonstrated professionalism by accepting responsibility for its error. It then worked to help spread the correct information. CNN issued corrections via email, Twitter and on TV. If we compare the number of retweets for its errant tweet with the number of RTs for the correction, we see that the correction actually managed to attract more attention:
By failing to fully correct its error, Fox News added to the confusion, provided fodder for its critics, and failed to be accountable for its reporting.