Whatever your opinion on the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the Health Care Act, two points are clear.
One, for at least 24 hours the high court was The Big Story.
Two, in their rush to be the first to report The Big Story, some media outlets got The Big Story Wrong.
The Court Rules!
After several years of remarkably rancorous debate, it all came down to the Men and Women in Black (robes). No papal announcement, Academy Award nomination or American Idol winner has been more eagerly anticipated.
This was no small thing.
These days lawyers and judges are routinely demeaned, maligned and marginalized. Often with good reason. But the bottom line is: we matter.
Not only do we matter, but of the three branches of government ours is the one which at crunch time is called upon to act like the adult in the room. Separating the squabbling children. Setting some ground rules.
This should give us a warm feeling as we head off to work in the morning. We are part of a grander scheme. Regardless of how insignificant the case or annoying the client, our actions make a difference.
The Media Blew It!
Weeks of hype preceded the high court announcement. Television coverage was incessant. The networks sent their top reporters to Washington where they threw elbows and poked eyes to gain the best position on the courthouse steps.
It was all a ratings grab, and it became a circus.
Small wonder, then, that there was such chortling when CNN, Fox and other outlets got it all wrong. With breathless excitement they reported that the Supreme Court had struck down the individual mandate and dealt a death blow to the President’s top achievement and perhaps his re-election hopes as well.
Compelling television. And completely false.
The reporters had read only the first page of the opinion before going live with their reports. If they had taken a few extra minutes and read the whole thing they might have been able to submit a factual news account instead of a fictional farce.
Instead, CNN spent nearly 10 minutes spewing nonsense about the significance of a so-called ruling that did not exist.
What should have been serious reportage of a weighty judicial case turned into the equivalent of World Wrestling Federation coverage – only with the wrong winner being crowned at the end.
The takeaways are numerous. Get your facts straight before speaking. Read the whole book before reviewing it.
But perhaps the real lesson is that our judicial system – which moves deliberately and requires use of the brain – does not lend itself well to today’s manic, hyper-ventilating, wall-to-wall, bombastic and blogtastic journalism.
And that just might be the best news of all.
Ernest (Jay) Reeves Jr. is an attorney licensed in North Carolina and South Carolina. He has practiced in both states and was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He writes the Risk Man column of practice pointers and risk management tips. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone 919-619-2441.