By: Mark Fitzgerald
When The Denver Post referred to the “late” C.W. McCall, it didn’t make just an embarrassing mistake — the singer with the Citizens Band AM-radio era hit Convoy is living just 190 miles away in Ouray, Colorado — the paper became part of an unusual spike in premature burials by newspapers.
In recent weeks, newspapers have declared deceased such alive-and-kicking figures as Houston Astros pitcher J.R. Richards (that was The Washington Post’s bad); singer/songwriter Gordon Lightfoot (National Post); jazz drummer Joe Morrello (The Boston Globe); and former Bank of Canada official James Elliott Coyne (National Post again).
You needn’t be a celebrity to be consigned to the Choir Invisible. The Tulsa World apologized for reporting that Zac McMinn was deceased. McMinn, ironically, works in a funeral home.
Craig Silverman, the acknowledged journalism accuracy maven who wrote Regret the Error and maintains the Website of that name, says reporting the quick as dead is a long, if not proud, tradition. “Death by media is such a frequent occurrence, I actually created a word for it — obiticide,” says Silverman. “The number of famous people who have been killed off by the media is quite lengthy.” Pope John Paul II, he notes, was reported as dead twice in his lifetime.