Thursday, June 28, 2012

CNN's Real Gaffe

I'm not sure whether anyone has pointed this out yet, but CNN has more to apologize for than just getting the decision wrong this morning. That was bad -- but it was also very understandable. Ask whichever network it was that pronounced Gabby Giffords dead last January. Breaking events are hard to cover, and frequently produce erroneous reports.

No, the pressure to get it first is always going to produce getting it wrong sometimes. That's just the nature of the business. Nothing for them to be proud of, granted, and they certainly should be sure to check what exactly happened and why and try not to let it happen next time, but the crosspressure is always going to be there.

So what did they really do wrong? They referred to the individual mandate -- not once, but regularly when I was watching on and off during the morning -- as the "centerpiece" of the Affordable Care Act.

Centerpiece? That's just terrible reporting. Sure, the mandate is important (although there's considerable argument about how important), but not in and of itself'; it's important to the extent it makes the really important stuff work. That is, without the mandate to supply customers you couldn't get private insurance companies to agree to turn themselves into what some have called highly-regulated utilities -- forcing them to take all comers, limiting the products they can offer, and even (as those getting rebate checks will soon learn, sort of) limiting how much they can spend outside of benefits. Nor is it clear that the mixed system of employer-based insurance and exchanges work unless everyone is forced into the pool. But that doesn't make the mandate the "centerpiece" any more than, I don't know, a good modern fielder's mitt is the centerpiece of a great catch.

It's really bad reporting, and there's no excuse for it.


  1. Well, it was A centerpiece of the legal issues....

    And FNC bolloxed it up this AM, too, for what it's worth.

  2. But, but, but, Jon: "it's important to the extent it makes the really important stuff work." That's what a centerpiece *does.* Like the heart.

  3. It's the centerpiece because it's what Wolf Blitzer was talking about at that moment! That makes it the most important thing in the whole universe!!!


    I agree, that mistake was more revealing of the pathology that is modern news reporting. Among other things, it means they fell for the right's framing. Again.

    OTOH, there were people warning beforehand that the opinions might be complicated and not instantly clear. So stationing someone in the courtroom with instructions to rush out in the first moments and deliver the "news" to the on-camera person outside was basically not knowing what kind of event you were covering. Pretty boneheaded.

  4. It totally is not the centerpiece of the law, it's the linchpin. I have been happily surprised to hear it referred to that way by some commentators today and in the monthslong wait for the opinion.

    That said, I agree with Matt. We and they have been talking about it for so long within the context of the imminent ruling, which focused our attention solely on the mandate, because it was, as Denniston says, "the crucial – and most controversial — feature of the Affordable Care Act." That arguable makes it a centerpiece of the case, but not the Act.

    1. Damn. That's the word I was looking for when I was writing this post, and it just escaped me. Linchpin. That would have worked for CNN.

  5. It's the centerpiece of the political/ideological debate around the ACA.

    1. It really isn't, though. The real debate is over whether universal coverage is a good thing; the mandate is a means to get there, and the outrage over it is, I suppose I should add in my opinion, entirely phony.

    2. It's notable then that the court ultimately gave the GOP a slight but significant win on the aspect of the challenge that did most directly bear upon the central ideological issue of coverage expansion: the nature and implementation of Medicaid expansion.

      First best outcome for the GOP policy-wise was to have the law struck down, but second best was much more to have the expansion limited in some way, not more abstract, hypothetical issues surrounding federalism and which clause grants authority (for in many instances, it's a wash in terms of federalism whether federal power derives from taxing or regulating interstate commerce).

  6. Just ran into this one: Doug Schoen called it the "centerpiece" too. Or maybe he called the whole law the centerpiece; he was just doing a quick drive-by of the decision on his way to declaring that What This Means is that Obama should start slashing Medicare and Social Security.

    See here.

  7. This seems like nuance-disabled TV and print journalists carelessly misadapting cues taken from SCOTUSblog: "The centerpiece *of the challenge to* the Affordable Care Act was the so-called individual mandate" (Amy Howe, ). And I believe she'd used that phrasing as well in the lead-up to decision day.

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