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Supreme Count decision on Obamacare: But wait, there's more

The CNN and Fox producers are scanning the syllabus. Eight lines from the bottom of page 2, they see the following language: "Chief Justice Roberts concluded in Part III-A that the individual mandate is not a valid exercise of Congress's power under the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause." They immediately and correctly recognize that sentence as fantastically important. The individual mandate is the heart of the statute, and it is clear that the Court has rejected the Administration's principal theory - indeed the only theory that was discussed at great length in the oral arguments and debated by commentators.

Into his conference call, the CNN producer says (correctly) that the Court has held that the individual mandate cannot be sustained under the Commerce Clause, and (incorrectly) that it therefore "looks like" the mandate has been struck down. The control room asks whether they can "go with" it, and after a pause, he says yes.

The Fox producer reads the syllabus exactly the same way, and reports that the mandate has been invalidated. Asked to confirm that the mandate has been struck down, he responds: "100%."

The Bloomberg team finishes its review, having read the Commerce Clause holding and then turned the page to see that the Court accepted the government's alternative argument that the individual mandate is constitutional under Congress's tax power. At 10:07:32 - 52 seconds after the Chief Justice began speaking - Bloomberg issues an alert: "OBAMA'S HEALTH-CARE OVERHAUL UPHELD BY U.S.SUPREME COURT." Bloomberg is first, and it is right.

CNN is also running a live blog. The entries are later edited (leaving the impossible time stamp "Updated at 10:06") to delete the words "struck down" and insert "upheld" to preserve for history the following bizarrely contradictory entry: "In a landmark decision that will impact that nation for decades, the Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a key provision of president Barak Obama's health care law, ruling that requiring people to have health insurance violates the Constitution."

At 10:15:00, CNN's on-air team reports - still somewhat elliptically - that "the individual mandate may be upheld under a narrow reading of the constitution, not under the commerce clause. We're talking about the taxing clause, Wolf, very important distinction here." And at 10:15:29, it reports (now making a different error, given that the Court has struck down part of the Medicaid provision), that "the entire law has been upheld." The control room then inserts a banner stating that the mandate "May Be Upheld."

CNN in particular should have told its viewers and readers more quickly about its own serious doubts about its initial reporting. By 10:12 at the latest, CNN was alone in seriously suggesting that the mandate might have been invalidated. The network's on-air team responsibly hedged throughout the entire process. But by 10:14, they should have been told not to claim that there were wildly conflicting reports about whether the mandate had been invalidated - the only reports on its side were its own, or echoes of its first reports bouncing around Twitter and blogs.


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