CNN, The Supreme Court and health care: The race to be first claims another victim

Andrew Sullivan may be the quintessential blogger, giving us the mix of news, analysis and link-sharing to show us what the medium is capable of doing. No exception today, as he live-blogged the ruling and added some insights from himself and others.

And he doesn’t mind pointing out where others — not just the usual political blowhards, but CNN and Fox — are getting it wrong:

11.43 am. Cable news needs to shut itself down. They failed high school newspaper tests this morning. There’s no excuse whatsoever. They really ought to be ashamed. Covering live events is all they’re really good for any more, if you are not partial to screeching propaganda or pure CNN tedium. And they even (bleep) that up – in a way many pajama-clad amateurs didn’t.

And he’s right, for the most part.

Court opinions can’t always be summarized in a few seconds. Taking the time to read the equivalent of “the mandate isn’t allowed under the Commerce Clause, but because of X, Y and Z, it’s OK to enforce with a tax” is essential. With all due modesty, a then-young grad student at Duke figured all this out more than a decade ago.

And yet some people never learn. Check out Bloomberg’s attempt to take credit for “beating” AP.

It was also, as Sullivan implies with his “pajama-clad amateurs” a good day for some bloggers. Particularly SCOTUSblog, which kept up a tremendous blow-by-blow account as it went through the opinions.

Not that Sullivan’s blog or SCOTUSblog are run by “pajama-clad amateurs.” SCOTUSblog is, ironically, sponsored by Bloomberg Law. Sullivan is now essentially part of Newsweek.

What we’re really seeing here is the blurring of media types. A “blog” is simply a publishing tool. A professional lawyer with some plain-English writing skills may technically be an “amateur” journalist, but that’s meaningless. And when a group like SCOTUSblog takes it time to get it right in a fully transparent way, the medium is working.

What I hope in the long run for journalism is this:

1. We need to keep the news-gathering infrastructure alive. That’s the sad part of CNN’s disaster today. As my fellow USA TODAY alum A.J. Perez said, CNN has bet it all on broadcasting news rather than opinion, and they were already losing that bet before today.

2. We need more people like Sullivan who aren’t beholden to a particular point of view. Sullivan is conservative, though perhaps not in the 2012 Tea Party sense of the word. I love his catchphrase “Biased and Balanced.”

Coincidentally, someone has insisted to me recently that Fox is more honest than other media because it’s honest about its agenda. I can’t accept that. For one thing, it assumes everyone has an agenda other than news-gathering, and I can tell you from 20 years of experience that isn’t true. For another, it’s too simple to say “left” will report “left” and “right” will report “right.”

An institution like Fox that brings the bias from on high through newsroom memos. An individual like Sullivan can be up front about his views (and prove that he’s not beholden to those who share at least a few of them). Newsroom bias is far more complicated.

The bottom line: We need a diversity of honest voices. We need them to compete in ways other than speed-reading and typing.

And then we need someone to pay for it all.

Simple, right?


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