The Ticket

‘Mandate struck down’: ‘Dewey Defeats Truman’ moment for CNN, Fox News

(Photo illustration by Gary He)

The Supreme Court upheld the individual insurance mandate of President Obama's "Affordable Health Care Act" in a 5-4 decision on Thursday, sending cable news and Twitter into a frenzy.

Moments after the 193-page ruling was released by the court, several media outlets--including CNN and Fox News--erroneously reported on-air that the mandate had been struck down.

"BREAKING NEWS: INDIVIDUAL MANDATE STRUCK DOWN," CNN's on-screen scroll blared. "Supreme Court finds measure unconstitutional."

It was a "Dewey Defeats Truman" moment for the 21st Century, New York Times reporter Charlie Savage tweeted, pointing to a screengrab of CNN's premature scroll.

[Have questions about today's Supreme Court ruling upholding the health care individual mandate? Read our discussion with Yahoo readers. ]

CNN.com's homepage mirrored the on-air report--inspiring at least one timely photo illustration: President Obama, as Harry S. Truman, proudly displaying the CNN homepage on his iPad. (In 1948, the Chicago Tribune published a front page headline calling the presidential election for Thomas E. Dewey instead of the actual winner, Truman, which led to the iconic image of Truman holding up a copy of the incorrect edition.)

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CNN and Fox News were among the news outlets that committed health care ruling gaffes. (Y! News)

An anonymous Twitter feed--@BreakingCNN--was quickly launched to chronicle CNN's gaffes both real and imagined.

The network later apologized:

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.

CNN, though, was not alone in its rush to report the news.

"Fox News was so eager to see the healthcare mandate fail they forgot to read past the 1st page of the ruling," Jason Keath wrote, pointing to a screengrab of the network's breaking news stumble.

Fox News executive vice president Michael Clemente issued a statement explaining the flub:

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. 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.

According to ABC News, President Obama was first informed of the erroneous decision while watching the cable newscasts at the White House:

Standing with White House chief of staff Jack Lew and looking at a television in the "Outer Oval" featuring a split screen of four different networks, the president saw graphics on the screens of the first two cable news networks to break the news—CNN and Fox News Channel—announcing, wrongly, that he had lost.

Obama wasn't the only politician watching cable news for the ruling. A handful of trigger-happy Republican lawmakers celebrated the repeal of Obamacare after seeing incorrect reports on cable news. "Let Freedom Ring," tweeted Florida Rep. Dennis Ross. He deleted the post two minutes later.

Ohio Republican Rep. Jean Schmidt was caught on video--obtained by NBC--screaming "Yes! Yes!!!" into her cell phone as she was informed--incorrectly--that the individual mandate had been struck down.

On Thursday afternoon, David Scott, a regional editor at the Associated Press, fired off an e-mail to staffers demanding they "stop taunting" CNN and other outlets over their mistake.

"Please, immediately, stop taunting on social networks about CNN and others' SCOTUS ruling mistake and the AP getting it right," Scott wrote. "That's not the impression we want to reflect as an organization. Let our reporting take the lead."

Shortly after the ruling, Roberts, who joined the liberal wing of the court in upholding the mandate, began trending both in the U.S. and worldwide.

"Judging by my Twitter feed," Buzzfeed's McCay Coppins wrote, "Chief Justice Roberts is now conservative public enemy number one."

"Roberts is the Severus Snape of the Supreme Court," Jezebel.com's Erin Gloria Ryan tweeted.

Glenn Beck railed against Roberts on his radio show, calling the chief justice a "coward" and offering a t-shirt emblazoned with his face above the word in the GlennBeck.com shop.

Patrick Gaspard, executive director of the Democratic National Committee, took to Twitter to gloat: "[I]t's constitutional. Bitches."

"I let my scotus excitement get the better of me," Gaspard explained later. "In all seriousness, this is an important moment in improving the lives of all Americans."

Conservatives on Twitter, meanwhile, expressed their outrage in tweets.

"Obama lied to the American people. Again," former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin tweeted. "He said it wasn't a tax. Obama lies; freedom dies."

An alarming number of Twitter users, Buzzfeed noted, declared their intent to move to Canada.

"Don't worry," former head Onion writer Joe Garden wrote on Twitter. "Despite the health care ruling, America will still find a way to crush its poor."

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