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People Magazine’s Obituary Mistake

by on December 3, 2014

Recently, an obituary announcing the passing of actor, Kirk Douglas, was published on People Magazine’s website. Not only is Douglas still alive, but the obituary was published in an incomplete fashion, as it included “DO NOT PUB” in its title, and “tk/tk/tk” as his date of death. The article has since been removed, but it got me thinking.

Clearly, this act could cause a lot of harm to both the actor, as well as his loved ones. Thinking that a loved one is dead must be awful, and I could only assume that once the misunderstanding is cleared up, some people would still be mad at whoever published it. What are the consequences of mistakenly publishing an obituary? Are those who make the mistake held responsible in any way? If not, should they be held responsible if it’s just an honest mistake?

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3 Comments
  1. I think this situation brings up a good ethical dilemma because it requires the magazine to retract the post and apologize for it. In order to post something like that, someone had to have written out an obituary entry with his name on it, and not completing it. The person who filled out his name and left it open for someone to post it thinking it was a valid entry should be held responsible. While it is an honest mistake and everyone does indeed make mistakes, it is still vital that the person is held responsible, I do not know if the repercussion should be being fired, but it should be taken seriously. Announcing someone’s death is a serious matter and could cause a lot of emotions and pain to family and friends of the person. A retraction and apology should be expected.

  2. I think that is a good point that there are some severe consequences when you post an obituary before someone is actually dead. One of my biggest questions is why they even had the obituary written…this makes me wonder what type of journalists are at this publication if they are waiting for people to die (leaving the date open).

    In this case, the person was famous and I am sure people were able to clear up the issue fairly quickly. Celebrities tend to face false death claims all the time and this could have just added to that. I think the real implications would come if this had happened to someone who was not famous. If I were to see the name of someone I had not seen in a while in the obituary section, I would assume that they had passed away without looking further into it. For people that are not close to the person in the obituary, they may go on assuming that they are dead.

    In this instance the journalist does not need to face any real repercussions because the issue was cleared up. In the case of someone who does not have a following, they should face some kind of justice whether it be an apology from the journalist, or an article recanting the obituary.

  3. alindsay579 permalink

    Everyone makes mistakes. However, dealing with the death of a prominent actor, even if it is real or not, should be taken with extreme fact checking. As journalists we should be taught humility and should learn from the mistakes we make. The sad thing is, this isn’t the first time that celebrities have seen false death claims. Whether through social media or through actual news publications, there will usually be the one off celebrity death hoax. In the end, an apology and retraction should be done in these cases. If it happens again, then more severe consequences should be given.

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