Wave those flags, citizens! Spin those yarns! The Supreme Court of the United States has spoken, and Obamacare is alive and well.
It’s 11:39am as I write this, nearly 90 minutes since the decision. Switching between various media forms, I’ve heard statements from tens of pundits, Republican House Speaker (and perpetual tanning client) John Boehner, and Republican Senate Minority Leader (and possible marionette come-to-life) Mitch McConnell.
I mention that it’s been 90 minutes because those are the minutes that are important in news. All of the minutes prior to those are now forgotten; minutes that included the following quote from Mitt Romney:
"As you know, the Supreme Court is going to be dealing with whether or not Obamacare is constitutional. If it is not - if Obamacare is not deemed constitutional -- then the first three and a half years of this president's term would have been wasted on something that has not helped the American people.”
I would have disagreed with that perspective; as, I would think, the following (groups of) people: the workers of General Motors, gay soldiers now openly serving their country, 4.3 million newly-employed people, the 39,000 troops who are no longer in Iraq, and Muammar Gaddafi, and Osama bin Laden.
But politics is politics, and Mitt Romney (as the author of a state policy just like this one), is probably not going to come out and congratulate President Obama on a job well done, and a law upheld by the branch of our government that gets final say on the constitutionality of our laws. If he did, that might be (gasp) somewhat mature for our political system.
So the minutes before the decision was known are washed away like they never happened. And the minutes to come will be as “Real Housewives” as the normal political discourse we have come to expect in this country. In fact, if Boehner and McConnell’s statements are any indication, it’s going to get lip-smackingly ridiculous as the Republicans continue to attempt to sway the American people that going back to zero on Health Care Reform—rather than amending this (now constitutional) bill—is a better "option for the public." Pun intended.
But these 90 minutes—15 of them, specifically—did include something that should not be forgotten in this discussion. Because immediately after the ruling came down, and for about fifteen minutes following it, CNN had the story wrong: Initially, in their attempt to get the story out immediately, they reported the individual mandate was dead. And they not only reported it on their newscast, they did so by sending out a bulletin to the subscribers of their app.
And then, fifteen minutes later, they corrected themselves.
This might be the fault of Jeffrey Toobin, CNN’s legal expert, who previously declared the law was in “grave, grave trouble,” and who was inside the Court as they handed down their decision. It might have been the fault of the reporter who broke the incorrect information on camera, and it might have been the fault of the people who read and misinterpreted Justice Roberts’ statements in the ruling. Regardless, CNN got it wrong.
To a lot of people, that’s not a big deal. The story is so big, that those fifteen minutes will be as forgotten as the minutes and days preceding it.
But it’s worth noting as part and parcel to a growing problem in our society: how we get our information. In their effort to be the first; in their effort to maintain their reputation as journalists in an era of pundits-- they got the story wrong. Completely.
And that is a major problem in a society that desperately needs to return to an age where journalism is about fact, and not opinion. It's a major indicator that the competitive nature of journalists has "jumped the shark" playing by the old rules of "get it fast" in an age where "fast" is "immediately." It's an indicator that the news is still worried about speed, when they should be worried about accuracy. It’s a palpitation signaling a heart attack in our future.
You can read between the lines all you like (whether you are a champion of liberal or conservative perspectives)-- but when the (arguably) most-objective cable news network screws up drawing those lines, that's a major problem.
As I write this, Mitt Romney is just now using his minutes to say all the things we knew he’d say: “I disagree with the ruling, and we’re going to continue the fight.” He’s doing what Republicans do: doubling down on a losing idea. It is the history and nature of their party, and it is leaving us with the very scary reality that the Democrats are the only sane party left in American politics.
But those are my politics, and I am no one. And politics will be politics.
The news, however, needs to be the news. It needs to be the "fourth estate," to check the government's power by informing the people, cutting through the bias, and doing so not only promptly, but accurately.
Because if we can't count on the news to use those minutes of our lives responsibly, we will start using them elsewhere.