George HW Bush is not dead, despite what you might have read in Der Spiegel. You probably didn’t, of course: the accidentally published obituary was only online for a matter of minutes. Still, that was long enough to trigger a cascade of gasps.
Those gasps – the result a “technical mistake”, naturally – were only amplified by the description of Bush the elder as “a colourless politician”.
But the German news mag has plenty of company in “the obituaries hall of shame”, notes Simon Usborne, in a survey of what might be called the Twain Exaggeration genre, for the Independent. (Though the Twain example itself has become routinely exaggerated.)
Bloomberg prematurely eulogised Steve Jobs in 2008. ABC News did the same for Sharon Osbourne in 2004. Folk musician Dave Swarbrick meanwhile “read about his demise in the [Daily Telegraph] while recuperating in a Midlands hospital in 1999”.
The same paper also got it wrong with aristocrat Cockie Hoogterp. She “survived her Telegraph obit by more than 50 years, during which time she returned her subscription bills marked ‘Deceased’.”
The lowest rung in the hall of shame belongs to CNN, which accidentally revealed a slew of pre-cooked obituaries on its site in 2003, complete with template errors that saw elements of the Queen Mother’s obituary attributed to others.
“Thus the site noted the Pope’s ‘love of racing’ and described Dick Cheney as the ‘UK’s favourite grandmother’.”
Meanwhile a search of Papers Past serves up this, from the Auckland Star in 1902: