Read The Painstaking Memos That Are Going Around CNN After Its Obamacare Screw Up


Photo: Courtesy of CNN

Both the Washington Post and Poynter have obtained two internal emails from CNN higher-ups that shame the network for its initial misreport on the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act. The network initially reported that the Supreme Court had “killed” the individual mandate on its network, its website and its Twitter feed. It also sent out an incorrect breaking-news text.The emails acknowledge a huge amount of fault, and also attempt to praising staffers for a job well done … the rest of the day. 

The WaPo’s Erik Wemple has an email from Washington Bureau Chief Sam Feist. Some highlights:

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. …

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.

The second paragraph in the excerpt is the pivot from criticism to motivation. Which was needed, as the screw up reportedly caused a rift within the newsroom, with one staffer saying it was “humiliating.”

Poynter obtained an email earlier in the day from Meredith Artley, vice president and managing editor of CNN Digital. Artley lamented that the mistake had taken away from some excellent reporting the rest of the way. Here it is, in part:

Just look at our sites at this very moment – we have crafted a collection of outstanding stories that millions of people are reading and watching right now.

There are a lot of tweets, posts and pieces out there about our mistake. And more will come. Stay strong. This is the organisation that has exposed and righted wrongs, that has brought knowledge and freedom to people worldwide. We made a mistake, as people and organisations sometimes do, and we swiftly and clearly corrected it.

We are not the story. The story is the story.

Fox also initially misreported that the individual mandate had been found unconstitutional, but it’s not quite owning up to its mistake like CNN. Here’s its statement:

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.

Right. Except the breaking ticker across the screen said: “Supreme Court Finds Health Care Individual Mandate Unconstitutional.” 

Here is the video of CNN’s intitial reporting on the Supreme Court Decision.

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