Getting the big headline wrong: the health care fail

It is bad mojo to take delight in a fellow journalist’s fails. And yet the Twitter hashtag #CNNHeadlines was a sadistically funny time-waster Thursday.

Among my favorites: “Identity of Luke Skywalker's Father Remains Mystery;” “Free bottles of high-fructose corn syrup for every citizen, sez Bloomberg;” and “Investigation finds that Billie Jean was indeed his lover.”

You get the idea. Schadenfreude, administered in 140-character doses and directed at CNN, which initially reported that the U.S. Supreme Court had junked the “individual mandate,” the foundation of the Obama health-care law.

It was a Dewey Beats Truman moment for the digital age, and CNN wasn’t alone. Fox News also jumped the gun but dodged the hashtag treatment. Maybe the Twitterverse grades news networks on a curve.

The lesson relearned is as old as journalism itself: Better to get it right than to get it first. But that is not as easy as it sounds, especially in today’s real-time news cycle.

The pressure to provide information when consumers want it — which is ASAP — is ever-present. We felt the pressure in our newsroom Thursday morning, as we tried to make sense between the erroneous reports and the dispatches from news outlets that got the story right. (We wound up making the right call, posting an accurate Associated Press news bulletin online.)

Mistakes are inevitable. In today’s news climate, mistakes aren’t just magnified; they may actually be more likely to occur.

Get Twitter updates on my blog and column and Statesman editorials. Become a follower. You can also get updates on Facebook's Idaho Statesman Opinion Page.