You may not believe me, but this postmortem by SCOTUSblog’s Tom Goldstein of how the media covered the Supreme Court’s decision regarding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is super fascinating. It’s impeccably sourced, straighforward, and surprisingly compelling.
The Court’s own technical staff prepares to load the opinion on to the Court’s website. In years past, the Court would have emailed copies of the decision to the Solicitor General and the parties’ lawyers once it was announced. But now it relies only on its website, where opinions are released approximately two minutes later. The week before, the Court declined our request that it distribute this opinion to the press by email; it has complete faith in the exceptional effort it has made to ensure that the website will not fail.
But it does. At this moment, the website is the subject of perhaps greater demand than any other site on the Internet — ever. It is the one and only place where anyone in the country not at the building — including not just the public, but press editors and the White House — can get the ruling. And millions of people are now on the site anxiously looking for the decision. They multiply the burden of their individual visits many times over — hitting refresh again, and again, and again. In the face of the crushing demand, the Court cannot publish its own decision.
The opinion will not appear on the website for a half-hour. So everyone in the country not personally at 1 First St., NE in Washington, DC is completely dependent on the press to get the decision right.
Reading it, the thing that struck me most is that these huge media machines still operate mostly on an individual basis. One person read the ruling for CNN, told one person in the control room, and then millions and millions of people heard that (mis)information just a few seconds later on CNN, on Twitter, and even in the Oval Office.