CNN gets it wrong; we’re all the worse for it

June 28, 2012
CNN article

BLUNDER: CNN stands corrected

How could one of the world’s most important news sources get it wrong? This morning, no doubt many Americans were huddled around their TVs watching as CNN mistakenly reported that the U.S. Supreme Court had struck down the individual mandate, essentially gutting recently enacted health care reform. A producer’s error had Wolf Blitzer and others chasing about at shadows as they speculated on the court’s decision and its political implications.

Call it skepticism. But as the misinformed prattled on, many of us here in Gregory FCA’s war room, who stood ready to make hay in light of the decision, urged caution. We decided not to release a thing, or go forward, until the decision was read. Moments later, Bloomberg first announced that CNN had gotten it wrong — salting the wound before announcing that, in fact, the individual mandate had been upheld.

The example piles one more failure on top of news organizations that refuse to vet the facts before reporting them live. As I sit here at this moment, my inbox is clogged with news repeating CNN’s mistake. Not a single source has yet to retract.

What’s there to learn from this morning’s incident?

1. Think before you jump as a PR person. By hitting the send button of CNN’s first report, you certainly could have been first to offer up clients to the media. You also would have set their cause back by spending the rest of the day correcting the record.

2. Carelessness is now a fact of life in the media. If we reduce our craft to these new lower standards, we will ill-serve our own clients, just as CNN failed its viewers. Instead, more and more, we find ourselves vetting facts for the media, who, due to slashed budgets and hollowed out newsrooms, simply do not have the resources to assure the accuracy of a story on their own.

3. Timeliness has been reduced to instantaneous. And that leaves little to no room to assure accuracy. In a world where speed to market trumps quality of process, we are often victims of shortening news cycles, where things are responded to in real time, without real thought applied.

Repeatedly in the digital pages of this blog, I have professed my love of CNN, urging it to regain its voice and reclaim viewers. Days like today make it hard to continue such boosterism in the face of a train wreck we watched unfold, fully aware that CNN may not make the bend. Sure enough, it all derailed. And yet, they call us flacks.

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