Thanks to an alert reader for this one. Several cable news networks made the same crucial slip-up yesterday in representing Sen. John Kerry’s position on the sensitive issue of a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

CNN got it wrong a total of five separate times — once each in the persons of Wolf Blitzer, and Larry King, plus three separate times on CNN Headline News. Elsewhere, CNBC (“The News on CNBC”) and Fox 5 NY (“Fox 5 News at 5 with John Roland and Linda Schmidt”) followed suit.

All ran astray by running a film clip of Kerry saying, “If the amendment provides for partnership and civil union benefits, which I believe is the appropriate way to extend rights, that would be a good amendment.”

Since there’s disagreement over whether the Musgrave federal amendment would or wouldn’t “provide for partnership and civil union benefits,” the clip made it seem as if, under some legal interpretations, Kerry would indeed support the Musgrave amendment.

But the same day, Kerry’s campaign released a statement saying, “While I believe marriage is between a man and a woman, for 200 years this has been a state issue. I oppose this election year effort to amend the Constitution.”

So: is Kerry flip-flopping? Not at all.

The clip that the cable networks played showed the Massachusetts senator responding to a question about a hypothetical state amendment. Since Kerry’s position is that marriage is a state issue, it’s entirely consistent to support a state amendment on it.

Ironically, CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” got it right, telling viewers that Kerry “opposes same-sex marriage, but would only support a state constitutional amendment banning them under these circumstances” (our italics), before running the Kerry sound byte.

Makes you wonder if the left hand knows what the right hand is doing at CNN.

Zachary Roth

Zachary Roth is a contributing editor to The Washington Monthly. He also has written for The Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, Slate, Salon, The Daily Beast, and Talking Points Memo, among other outlets.