29 June 2004

The late local news this evening on WCIA (the local CBS affiliate) was really, really offensive. The short slug offered on the COPA decision was inexcusably inaccurate and inflammatory. The anchor said approximately that the Supreme Court had held that child porn (the exact words) on the Internet is protected by the First Amendment, and struck down the law (not specified on the newscast) on the ground that filters on the Internet were a better choice.

Unfortunately, that's all too typical of the accuracy of reporting on legal issues in the local media, not limited to this station alone (although it tends to be the most inflammatory in describing decisions that reject a hyperconservative social agenda). This despite the presence of a leading law school, including several top scholars who are more than willing to field media inquiries. Two of them have won multiple broadcast-media awards for their work on public radio. The Supreme Court, contrary to the news report, did not hold anything unconstitutional.

Taking approximately the same amount of time devoted to the summary—just over ten seconds—might result in something like this, which is both accurate and concise, and could be gleaned from the four-page-long syllabus:

The Supreme Court today upheld a stay against a law intended to keep children from seeing porn and other harmful material on the Internet. The government will have to justify the law under the First Amendment at trial as more appropriate than filtering software.

At broadcast time, it had been almost thirteen hours since the decision was issued. If accuracy matters at all, this kind of BS is inexcusable. Except, of course, if one's objective is to manipulate the audience and not to present the "news."