Reporters, editors, producers, commentators, talk show hosts, bloggers and about a billion PR people will be setting their alarms extra early tonight: The Supreme Court is expected to hand down its decision on the constitutionality — in whole or in part — of the Affordable Care Act some time Thursday morning.
Here are a few things to expect in the ensuing media frenzy.
Ten minutes of confusing live TV and hysterical blogging. If you sit down someplace quiet and actually read a court decision, it isn't that difficult to understand. Supreme Court decisions are written by people who used to the lawyers, not wire service reporters, so reading a decision isn’t like reading a 500-word recap of a ballgame. But if you read carefully your can grasp the gist of the thing and its main arguments.
The news, alas, cannot wait. Reporters will flip to the last page — the part were it says something like “the judgment of the Such-And-Such Court is reversed/affirmed” — and announce what’s there. Then some other reporter or blogger will read page 7 and start talking about what that means, while some other TV reporter or bloggers will find a completely different meaning on page 7. Then the legal analysts will have at it.
Hundreds of legal analysts, all certain their interpretation of the decision is the correct one. I've never been entirely sure what qualifies someone as a "legal analyst" — a law degree seems to suffice. I would find it refreshing if one of these legal analysts would say, on live TV, "Um, look, I dunno. Give me an hour or so to read this thing a couple of times. Can someone get me a cup of coffee and a donut?"
Twitter will explode. More than 100 million Americans have Twitter accounts. Every single one has an opinion on the Affordable Care Act. The vast majority of tweets — I'd say 95 percent — will be taunts, since taunting is the most common form of expression on Twitter. Republicans will taunt Democrats, Democrats will taunt Republicans, think tankers will taunt other think tankers, Tea Partiers will taunt everybody.
Utterly predictable statements by political leaders and candidates. These statements were written weeks ago, and they will be delivered word for word to forests of microphones (if the politician is powerful) or in press releases nobody reads (if the politician isn’t).
Since we all know already what every politician in the United States thinks of the Affordable Care Act, right down to zoning board members, this will be entirely unedifying. It will dominate news coverage anyway. But the media has to cover that stuff.
Clear, unbiased reporting and informed, perceptive commentary. You’ll have to turn down the media noise and chatter and agitation, and you may have to hunt around a little, but it’ll be worth the effort.
Confident predictions about how the decision will affect the presidential race. No one has a clue how the decision will affect the presidential race. No matter. Everyone in reach of a keyboard or close to a microphone will have a prediction. Most predictions will depend on the predictor’s political leanings.
The only correct answer to the question of how the opinion, whatever it is, will change the presidential race is “Beats me. We’ll have to wait and see.”
Finally, if I may, a piece of advice: Read the decision yourself. You can find the Supreme Court’s “slip” opinions on the court’s website, and you will undoubtedly be able to view and download the opinion as a PDF from any number of news sites.
Once you’ve read the decision, you can take a deep breath and wade back into the media frenzy — no sense letting a good media frenzy pass you by. They’re kind of fun. And if you’ve read the decision, you can sit in your living room and argue with the legal analysts on TV.
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