A few months after arriving as a TV reporter in Phoenix, I was working the nightshift when the U.S. Supreme Court announced in the evening its decision on Bush v. Gore. Someone assigned me to do a newsroom live shot explaining one of the country’s biggest judicial decisions ever. I’m proud of my education, but I am not a legal scholar. I spent the first few months at the station covering crime and weather. My prior assignments there involved stories such as chasing dust storms or pointing live on TV to trees swaying in the weather. Those reports did not help prepare me for this story.
Before my live shot, I watched national correspondents discuss the ruling and read the AP wire. I needed to hear their insight to ensure I said something logical when I hit the air with my own assessment. I learned this: The experts on the national level were even struggling to properly discern the court’s ruling on such short notice.
I once remember watching a reporter on national television fumbling through a court’s decision in her hands, trying to report its meaning before anyone gave her a chance to significantly look through it. The problem is this: When the U.S. Supreme Court releases a landmark decision, few media outlets are going to report “The Court has released its decision. We will report that decision once we have a moment to make heads or tails of it.” Media are eager to report the Court either upheld or struck down the law. And as the Supreme Court’s decision on Arizona’s SB 1070 again reminded us, rulings are not sports games. Decisions don’t always offer a clear winner or loser.
I followed news of the decision on Twitter:
At 7:22am, A Tweet from The Associated Press stated the court “strikes down most of the crackdown on illegal immigrants.”
At 7:26am, the Los Angeles Times referred to it as a “split decision.”
At 7:27am, the BBC Tweeted the Court “upholds some” of the law.
At 7:30am, a local reporter wrote the Court “upholds key portion …”
At 8:30am, a Tweet from The New York Times’ stated “High Court Rejects Part of Arizona Immigration Law.”
You always can quibble with wording. Tweets using words such as “strikes down” and “rejects” probably led some of the law’s critics to believe the Court agreed with them. Tweets using the words “uphold” likely led some of the law’s supporters to assume the Court agreed with them. But overall, credit these media outlets, or in some cases these individual reporters, with realizing under strict deadlines that this decision is not a slam-dunk victory for either side. I’m sure someone can find examples of poor reporting I’m unaware of. But the rush to cover other big stories in the past has left behind bad examples of making factual or misleading mistakes in a quest to make the news first.
In this case, much of the media, in how they initially portrayed the ruling, appear to have made the right decision about the decision.
What do you think of that story’s reporting? Did you see errors I didn’t?
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