How CNN, Fox News blew the big story

CNN and Fox News, in little-boy fervor to be first, both blew the Supreme Court ruling on “Obamacare

It is classic “Shoe” humor from years ago.

One of the comic strip’s main characters, probably the “Perfessor,” begs a buddy not to tell his mother that he is working in the news business. The Perfessor explains: “She thinks I’m running numbers down on the docks.”

Kind of the way TV news folks were left feeling after CNN and Fox News, in little-boy fervor to be first, both blew the Supreme Court ruling on “Obamacare,” and then the next day, there was that very uncomfortable sob sister session on “Today,” as Ann Curry wept over losing her seat on the couch, for which loss she was recompensed a mere $10 million. Boo hoo.

I mean, how could you not feel the pride after Fox and CNN both reported quickly but erroneously that the Supreme Court had struck down the mandate that citizens buy insurance or pay a penalty, centerpiece of the president’s health care plan, when, in fact, five of the justices had given a thumbs up to the plan? Our bad, said CNN; Fox, however, tried to explain away blowing one of the biggest stories in years.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the majority opinion, said first that mandates are a no-no constitutionally, but the penalty-as-tax, well he said the Framers might have loved that. Roberts’ Rules of Reasoning are something like that old, offensive one-liner, “Hey, lady, your kid would really be cute, if he were a monkey.” The boys and girls at CNN and Fox reported his first conclusion, not his final decision.

Still, a Fox News executive by the name of Michael Clemente explained his network’s goof-up in this amazing fashion: “We gave our viewers the news as it happened. When Justice Roberts said, and we read, that the mandate was not valid under the Constitution, we reported it … 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.”

Does Fox’s Clemente sound like a nutty-buddy or what?

His explanation is a lot like a sports reporter telling us, well after the game has concluded, that the Yankees won the game because they were leading 5-2 in the seventh; oh, wait a minute, the Orioles won because they scored four in the eighth, but we were right on both counts.

The blunders happened, plain and simple, because of the networks’ obsession with being first on the air. Us guys in the TV news “bidness” are all guilty at times, when by and large, the viewers really do not care who’s on first. I swear I cannot recall whether it was the Washington Argus or the Baltimore Recorder that broke the news of Lincoln’s assassination.

Less than 24 hours later, we were treated to that whimpering performance by Ann Curry, who teared up on the NBC News “Today” show as she announced what everyone already knew: that she was leaving as regular co-host of the show that provides nearly a quarter of the network’s profits. Until then, Curry was the victim, the fall gal for slipped ratings. Domineering co-host Matt Lauer was the ogre, supposedly demanding Curry’s ouster when Lauer re-upped for a contract worth NBA superstar money.

Instead, Curry sniffled and cried and sniffled and cried! And during this extremely awkward several minutes, Lauer stared down at his Bruno Maglis, checking to see if the tassles were still there. Al Roker looked like he’d rather have been in the middle of a tornado, not that couch. Ann, Ann, NBC is giving you 10 million bucks to break your contract, plus some sort of undefined assignment for a

few more million, and you CRIED! All of a sudden, Lauer is no longer the lout. Has Ann Curry never seen the movie “A League of Their Own?”

Ann, never let them see you cry. When you decide that your boss is the wrong end of the horse — as some of us do — you exit with panache, not sobs, even if it’s a network nudnik who just gave you the boot.

I never did work at a network, but take my word for it, buckaroos, it reportedly ain’t pretty. Bulletproof vests come in handy but are to be worn backwards, because that’s where most of the wounds are inflicted.

Back in the ’70s, at the TV station where I once hid out, we had an ambitious young reporter who would have sacrificed his spleen to work at the “net.” Heywood Hale Broun, the irreverent CBS News sports reporter-essayist whose colorful, plaid sportcoats dazzled, was speaking at Siena College. The ambitious young reporter gets to cover “Woody’s” appearance, tells him of his ambitions and asks him what it’s like working for a network.

“You know the worst guy who works at your station right now, the biggest jerk?,” says Broun. “Well, at the network, he would be known as ‘the nice guy.’ ”

John McLoughlin is a freelance columnist and a veteran Capital Region journalist now at NewsChannel 13. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily those of the newspaper. Reach him at [email protected].

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