"Gaffes and Gotchas" Part II

With the HealthCare Decision, Some News Outlets Get Caught in Their Own Trap

The news media pride themselves on getting a story right, and most of the time, they do.

But every so often, some of them get it wrong. Very wrong. This leaves them in the embarrassing position of admitting to a mistake and then attempting to walk it back. And in the age of Twitter, that can be a very large undertaking indeed.

By now, it is common knowledge that, on Thursday, June 28, just after 10:15 a.m. Eastern Time, CNN and FOX News went out with the premature declaration that the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) had overturned the Affordable Care Act (also known derisively as "Obamacare").

Almost immediately, the Twitter-sphere erupted. Figures available through Topsy.com indicated that the mentions of "SCOTUS" were way more than 16,000, while mentions of "Obamacare" reached 29,000. Twitter Government @gov reported 13,166 tweets per minute, nearly doubling the 7,347 Tweets per minute for Obama's declaration of support for gay marriage. The most popular hashtags were #SCOTUS, #Obamacare, #ACA (which stands for Affordable Care Act), #HealthCare, #HCR (which stands for Health Care Reform).

At this point in time, it is nearly impossible to calculate how many of these tweets carried the erroneous SCOTUS story. It is reasonable to assume, though, that a very significant number of those tweets -- perhaps half or more -- carried wrong information. It was the news media's own "Gaffe and Gotcha" moment, a phenomenon that I mentioned in a previous blog entry here on The Huffington Post.

This only made it more difficult for the news media to issue their corrections some minutes later, since a first impression is generally the one that sticks in the mind. And here the first impression was, of course, a hasty rush to judgment.

This made for some lively Tweets, re-Tweets and retouched photos. Even as corrected stories Tweeted their way through the system, photojournalist Gary He, product director at Insider Images, issued a parody of the classic moment when the Chicago Tribune made a whale of a mistake with the presidential election of 1948 and declared "Dewey Defeats Truman."

This is, of course, a re-working of the famous photo that referred to a prior media gaffe. Notice the delicious irony in this picture: The CNN logo has taken the place of the Chicago Tribune masthead and the newspaper has been replaced by a tablet computer.

It was also a huge exclamation point for Obama, who had faced the prospects of a terrible week in the press. The opposite occurred, obviously.

I have often said that social media are terrific innovations that add great value to our lives. But they also serve as a daily diary of our thoughts and connections with each other. We tend to think of them as virtual, but they are very real. They exist in the ether of cyberspace (and they have taken up residence somewhere in The Cloud, wherever that may be). These wrong missives will exist as long as there is an Internet. (That would be forever, I would think.)