Don’t Jump the Gun


When it comes to breaking news, haste makes waste

Supreme Ct. Kills Individual Mandate” 

“Supreme Court Finds Health Care Individual Mandate Unconstitutional”

These are just a few of the headlines that appeared immediately after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on President Barack Obama’s health care law. However, the Associated Press was quick to report that several major news organizations, in a hurry to be first to report the on news, initially reported incorrectly that the law’s central provision had been struck down and had to promptly correct themselves.

As a result of the confusion, President Obama initially thought that the mandate had been struck down. According to, “For about 40 seconds, the president believed that his landmark, legacy-defining legislative accomplishment, had been gutted.”

As social media platforms and online video become increasingly central to reporting (including major news broadcasting networks), media outlets risk sacrificing quality and instead hurriedly opting to be the first to break news. As a result, news organizations themselves can become the main characters in the race to report first.

In many ways, electronic and social media platforms have leveled the playing field for news organizations, companies and individuals alike.  As a result, what is reported is rarely erased or forgotten. Just as companies are now learning to be much more aware of the consequences of a social media blunder in the same way they exercise caution when reporting their financials and other sensitive information, news outlets must also consider and take into account the differences in each medium (traditional print vs. online and video broadcast) as they tailor their coverage, especially when reporting complex breaking news.

It’s worth pointing out that, according to many observers, the most complete, accurate, and timely coverage of the Supreme Court’s ACA review came from SCOTUSblog, a blog that tracks cases as they progress through the lower courts to the Supreme Court until they are finalized. The blog, sponsored by Bloomberg Law, achieved more than 1 million hits during the ACA ruling due in part to its liveblog of the court’s decisions.

In the end, the Associated Press reported that one outlet did issue an apology, admitting that it had not waited to report on the full and complete opinion regarding the mandate. As public relations professionals, media reporters often turn to us for sources and citations and it is our job to assist in a timely manner. But even in today’s fast-paced media landscape, we must always be sure to present factual and accurate materials in order to best serve our clients and the public.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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