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350px-Supreme_Court_US_2010Perhaps nothing vexas journalists in the hyper speed news cycle than having to sift through, very quickly, a lengthy and nuanced Supreme Court opinion. That is why this morning, as all eyes turned to the Supreme Court, Fox and CNN were declaring that the justices had declared the mandate unconstitutional when in fact it was just about the opposite. Video here.

There also was confusion on MSNBC, which largely got it right. But its correspondent Pete Williams reported that the upholding of the mandate under the taxing authority of Congress, rather than the Commerce Clause, nonetheless may not mean much if there is no penalty if Americans don’t face a penalty if they do not buy health insurance and are not then required to pay a tax. In fact, as he was interviewing SCOTUS Blog’s Tom Goldstein, under the new healthcare law the penalty for not buying insurance will be that they will be taxed as a penalty.

Confusion is understandable, as was the case with the 2000 Bush vs. Gore decision and last week with the decision on TV decency (the latter, as I found out, turned out to be a much narrower opinion than an initial quick read). So I guess the lesson is better to be right than to be first, as simple as that sounds.

The winner in all of the coverage was SCOTUS Blog, the wonkish site that did a live blog of the ruling, with more than 800,000 signed on to follow. The site reported at eight minutes after 10 a.m. ET that “The individual mandate survives as a tax.” They have been an asset to other news organizations struggling for guidance given the prohibition of cameras or recording devices in the high court chambers. But Goldstein, last night, made a prediction that the mandate would stand, against the conventional wisdom, pointing out that on so many occasions the court’s rulings surprise rather than conform to the punditry.

Jeffrey Toobin, the astute Supreme Court watcher for CNN, nevertheless admitted that he was wrong when, shortly after oral arguments in late March, he considered the mandate dead.

Toobin said on CNN, “This is a day for [Solicitor General] Don Verrilli to take an enormous amount of credit, and for me to eat a bit of crow – because he won, and everyone should know that that argument was a winning argument, whatever you thought on it.”

Key sections of the ruling here.

Reactions:

Michael Moore: “The right wing has just had their worst smackdown since the day O was elected. The path of history continues to head toward univ health care.”

Alec Baldwin: “I guess this means less $ for oil subsidies… Oh, too bad.”

Cher: “Set alarm 2hear Supreme court decision on pres Obama’s health plan! It WAS UP HELD! I literally jumped out of bed started doing snoopy dance.”

Jon Lovett writes a Twitter story on what Roberts faces in the Supreme Court cafeteria.