Covering breaking news is tough — and covering a highly divisive, hotly anticipated Supreme Court ruling might be one of the toughest assignments in the journalism business. There's no video or audio — you're just handed a pile of paper and have to decipher arcane legal conclusions in a flash.
So it's not surprising that the court's landmark health care decision sent media organizations into a complete frenzy on Thursday. Networks raced to decipher the 193-page decision live on-air just seconds after getting a copy in their hands, and as viewers saw, some missed the mark. One who got it right was ABC News’ Terry Moran. As he told The Huffington Post on Thursday, he definitely felt the pressure when he delivered the ruling’s biggest point within thirty seconds of receiving the papers.
“It was hairy, but fun,” Moran said about the experience on Thursday. The "Nightline" anchor, who covers the Supreme Court for ABC News, said, “I’ve been doing this a long time, looking at judicial opinions for the better part of 20 years, so I knew how to look, where to look. The pressure was really crazy, and I had fun doing it.”
It wasn’t easy, as evidenced by other networks' bungled reporting. CNN and Fox News both jumped the gun, erroneously telling viewers that the individual mandate had been struck down (A tweet from the Huffington Post's Politics section also initially made the wrong conclusion). Their mistake became a victory for the networks that got it right. MSNBC president Phil Griffin congratulated staff in an email, “Your work today set us apart from the competition.”
For his part, Moran said that he hadn’t seen their reports while poring over the decision himself. “I find it easier to stay away from other coverage and have my own take,” he said. He didn’t hit the networks over the error either, noting the difficulty of the task at hand.
“I will say it’s hard to digest these opinions, especially if you don’t have a lot of experience doing it and I’m grateful that I’ve got that experience, but I understand how people can get it wrong,” he offered. He said that the first thing he did was look at which justice wrote the opinion and how the vote was split.
Producer Ariane de Vogue laid the process out before the ruling: some members of the media would be in the courtroom with pen and paper (cameras and phones are not allowed), while the networks would have runners in the press room ready to race the decision outside to correspondents.
That morning, an ABC News intern ran a copy of the ruling across the plaza through the crowd and handed it to Moran. “Television is a team sport,” he said, adding that de Vogue and other producers were scanning the ruling at the same time he was. “You have to have an experienced team to do that and I’m grateful that we do.”
He called the health care ruling "one of the biggest" Supreme Court decisions he has ever witnessed. Moran ranked it with Bush v. Gore in 2000 and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which upheld Roe v. Wade. “I loved the history of the moment,” he said on Thursday.