But the biggest damage to CNN has been self-inflicted — never more so than in June, when in a rush to be first, it came running out of the Supreme Court saying that President Obama’s health care law had been overturned. It was a hugely embarrassing error.
Still, when big news breaks, we instinctively look to CNN. We want CNN to be good, to be worthy of its moment. That impulse took a beating last week. On Wednesday at 1:45 p.m., the correspondent John King reported that a suspect had been arrested. It was a big scoop that turned out to be false.
Mr. King, a good reporter in possession of a bad set of facts, was joined by The Associated Press, Fox News, The Boston Globe and others, but the stumble could not have come at a worse time for CNN. When viewers arrived in droves — the audience tripled to 1.05 million, from 365,000 the week before, according to Nielsen ratings supplied by Horizon Media — CNN failed in its core mission.
It was not the worst mistake of the week — The New York Post all but fingered two innocent men in a front-page picture — but it was a signature error for a live news channel.
CNN has been in the middle of a rehabilitation ever since Jeff Zucker was appointed at the end of last year to run CNN Worldwide. Until now, the defining story in the Zucker era had been a doomed cruise ship that lost power and was towed to port, where its beleaguered passengers dispersed. This week, CNN seemed a lot like that ship.