See if you can spot the problem with CNN’s original story on the Supreme Court’s ruling regarding a baker who refused to bake a cake for a gay wedding ceremony. It’s right at the top.
“The Supreme Court ruled narrowly in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to bake a cake to celebrate the marriage of a same sex couple because of a religious objection,” the story reads.
“The ruling was 7-2.”
Yes, that close 7-2 ruling. I mean, they didn’t even get all nine justices! It’s like that narrow Seattle-Denver Super Bowl or that close competition between “The Force Awakens” and “Solo: A Star Wars Film” at the box office.
In one of the most awaited Supreme Court rulings of the current session, the court ruled 7-2 Monday that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission violated the First Amendment rights of baker Jack Phillips by sanctioning him under the state’s anti-discrimination laws.
The verdict was a narrow one in a sense; it wasn’t a wide-ranging statement on religious liberty, instead hinging on the fact that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had “showed animus toward Phillips specifically when they suggested his claims of religious freedom was made to justify discrimination.”
“The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts, all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.”
However, while not wide-ranging, the vote was relatively unequivocal — 7-2 in favor of Phillips, with only Justices Sonya Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissenting.
And it wasn’t just like it was the story itself, either. Here was what they had to say on Twitter:
Here was how the story was first reported on CNN’s webpage:
As of 11:40 a.m. Eastern Time, however, CNN’s story had been amended:
Now the website’s story reads, “The Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to bake a cake to celebrate the marriage of a same sex couple because of a religious objection.”
Perhaps you could argue that part of CNN’s coverage of this case was pre-assembled and they assumed that if the baker prevailed, it would be by a narrow margin. This kind of shines a light on the assumptions at play in the CNN newsroom, however.
Another theory bandied about in our newsroom was that CNN was suggesting the victory was decided on narrow grounds — that is, that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission acted, in part, based on hostility toward the baker’s Christian faith as opposed to a question of religious liberty.
This seems to make a little bit less sense, as the concept that the court handed a narrow win as opposed to handing a win on narrow grounds was rather unequivocally transmitted in both the original story and the tweet, yet both used different language.
In other words, it seems a lot more likely someone thought this was a narrow vote until they realized it wasn’t.
Either way, it’s an interesting little mistake that probably reveals more than it should about CNN. I can’t wait for them to start referring to the narrow ruling in Roe v. Wade, which was also decided by a 7-2 margin back in 1973.
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