August 19th, 2009
12:58 PM ET

No, he's not dead. No, not him either.

When John Hughes passed away recently, my colleague Rachel Wells posted a great blog entry describing our verification and reporting process when a celebrity dies.  What she didn't add, as it wasn't relevant at the time, was that we follow the same steps when a celeb doesn't die - that is, when it's just a stupid rumor.

The latest not-dead celeb is Robert Pattinson, of Twilight fame.  Overnight, someone apparently edited his Wikipedia entry to say he had died, and almost immediately, CNN was inundated with emails asking if it was true.  So we dutifully put in calls to his manager and his agent, as well as Twilight's distribution company.  A couple of days ago, we were contacting Eminem's reps, after the rapper had supposedly died in a car crash.

Sometimes it seems you haven't made it in Hollywood unless someone says you're dead.  Recent non-dead celebs include Harrison Ford (supposedly disappeared on a boat in the French Riviera), Natalie Portman, George Clooney, Miley Cyrus, and Jeff Goldblum.  Goldblum, who was said to have fallen off a cliff while making a movie in New Zealand - he was in L.A. at the time - even gave his own comedic eulogy on The Colbert Report.  (I happened to be the one to call Goldblum's publicist, and before I could even ask, the rep said "No, he's not dead.")  Going a bit further back, everyone from Tom Hanks to Tom Cruise has been targeted.

Such rumors are nothing new: Leave It To Beaver star Jerry Mathers was supposed to have died in Vietnam, and I remember friends swearing that Mikey from the Life Cereal ads had eaten Pop Rocks, drank a Coke, and his stomach had exploded.  Rumor-debunking websites such as Snopes have flourished investigating and knocking down such bogus claims.

My first thought on hearing one of these rumors is the same as when I read about a new computer virus: what dolt did this?  Who thinks this is funny?  At least creating a computer virus takes a bit of cleverness and skill; whipping up a fake Wikipedia entry - or a faux wire article or a phony tweet - just takes having more spare time than sense, or class.

At least it points out something positive about the MSM, the mainstream media it's so fashionable to hate.  Sure, independent blogs and other websites often break stories on which the MSM moves more slowly, or not at all.  But part of the reason is that we check and double-check our facts.  Unlike many websites, CNN has an established process that demands we confirm things like births, weddings, divorces, arrests... and especially deaths.  It's why we got so many calls overnight about Pattinson: our reputation for getting it right, even if we're not first.

Sure, we make mistakes - we're human.  And some people will always care more about rumor than fact.  But for those who'd rather know if the email they're forwarding or the news they're linking to on Facebook is actually true, we'll keep doing what we're doing.

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soundoff (27 Responses)
  1. Tracey

    Steve Burns of Blue's Clues fame isn't dead either. Just so's ya know.

    August 20, 2009 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Heather

    I lived in Brooklyn during 9/11 and New Orleans when the levees broke in 2005 and CNN's 24/7 news coverage was abhorrent in the inaccuracy of its reporting. In times of emergency CNN does nothing to disseminate real news and only fuels rumors and speculation. You may believe that CNN has a high level of integrity in its reporting but to those of us living in places where news is happening, we know to turn the cable t.v. off when we need real news and turn to local news sources.

    August 20, 2009 at 9:48 am | Report abuse |
  3. mal22

    Now only if they said that about Michael Jackson. So John Hughes lied to America, the world? He should have fun "coming back" to life.

    August 20, 2009 at 7:52 am | Report abuse |
  4. faithhealer

    My father one time put an article on Wikipedia that was full of false information (Purposely of course.) Within 2 days the article had been completely rewritten. Most of which was true information, but it just goes to prove that although Wikipedia is a good starting point for info, you can only take said info with a grain of salt. And as for nancy Grace. The world would be a lot better without her voice clogging up the airways. I actually liked the movie Hancock until the 30 second appearance she made on it. Give it up Nancy!

    August 20, 2009 at 7:45 am | Report abuse |
  5. lam27

    I enjoyed the rant on Nancy Grace. I agree that she is the most obnoxious commentator on TV. She really should cut down on the berating of everyone she talks to, when it doesn't occur to her that coolers and charcoal BBQ grills exist. What a moron. Here is a fake death headline for you... "Nancy Grace Dies of Starvation During Hurricane".... Sources say the correspondent perished because her electric BBQ lost power during the epic storm....

    Give me a break!

    August 20, 2009 at 7:42 am | Report abuse |
  6. DillyRat

    Everything printed in the "Star" is NOT true?! Bigfoot and Elvis were NOT spotted outside Shaky's Pizzeria? What is this world coming to?! And now I can't use my BBQ grill because we have a power outage!!! You'll read the headlines in tomorrow's Star: "DillyRat, Bigfoot and Elvis stare at cold grill... eat each others feet"

    August 20, 2009 at 7:32 am | Report abuse |
  7. A. Greemont

    @Jackson: hear, hear! Bravo sir!

    August 20, 2009 at 7:05 am | Report abuse |
  8. Maggie

    The thing with this kind of rumor is that it's so common lately, many have stopped believing. The one on Emma Watson was all over facebook and youtube and for every condolence message, there was a question on validity. It makes you wonder how or if people will react when it's actually true.

    August 20, 2009 at 5:55 am | Report abuse |
  9. Kevin

    What, no mention of Abe Vigoda? Shame on you, CNN.

    August 20, 2009 at 1:37 am | Report abuse |
  10. swilson160

    I agree about the i-Report; even though the reports are clearly labeled as user-submitted, they are far too frequently mixed in with legitimate news reports. The i0Reports should be their own standalone segment or part of the website so there is no confusing them with legitimate, verified news reports.

    August 19, 2009 at 7:28 pm | Report abuse |
  11. grimmbro

    Fake celebrity deaths ARE funny. The whole Jeff Goldblum death put things into perspective for me. The world didn't end when Michael and Farrah died, in contradiction to the coverage the media gave them. The fake death reports brought levity to a news day that was chock full of celebrity death. The punchline to the joke was "Phew, at least Jeff Goldblum's not dead."

    August 19, 2009 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
  12. the hairball

    i remember looking for the clues to paul mccartney's death on the beatle albums . . . . but then again . . . . as john lennon said, ". . . , those freaks was right when they said you was dead . . . ."

    August 19, 2009 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Gator Bait

    I heard a rumor that Michael Jackson died. I'm still not sure if it is true. A little help out there clearing this matter up would be helpful.

    August 19, 2009 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
  14. anthony frizzell

    If there is any one on this planet more irritating and annoying than Nancy Grace I can't think of him or her. She is rude , loud, and generally off the wall. This is the reason I read CNN instead of coming in possible contact with her on the air.

    August 19, 2009 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Pam

    I remember when the song DON'T WORRY, BE HAPPY was popular, there was an ironic rumor that the singer, Bobby McFerrin, had committed suicide. Apparently, he worried a lot & wasn't so happy. Not.

    August 19, 2009 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  16. Diane

    Jeff Goldblum found the humor in his fake death story and it proved to be one of the more humorous moments on the Colbert Report.

    August 19, 2009 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  17. Frances

    What I find insulting as a journalist is your iReport. Leaving news reporting to the untrained, unchecked and unverifiable general lay audience is irresponsible and just plain bad news...pardon the pun.

    August 19, 2009 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  18. Steve H.

    Why do some people believe in UFOs, the Bermuda Triangle, holostic medicines, horoscopes, channeling the dead, etc? Because they have the WILL to believe. Don't confuse them with the facts.

    People are lazy. They don't want to expend the energy to check up on what they are told in the media.

    August 19, 2009 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
  19. Kelly

    Last time I checked cooking on your BBQ required propane gas not electricity??!!

    August 19, 2009 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
  20. lee

    I hate Nancy Grace... her voice is THE most annoying sound in the world... worse than crying babies or nails on a chalk board. And I agree... she is a ditz. Sometimes I flip by her show, and it 's an interestig topic, but I can only stomach about 2 minutes of her voice at a time. And she almost always says something within those two minutes that makes me go "what tha..."

    August 19, 2009 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
  21. Jennifer

    I assume Nancy Grace was thinking that without electricity, there would be no food to cook, since there would be no means of refrigeration...

    August 19, 2009 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
  22. Mikie

    I thought for SURE Ledger’s death was a publicity stunt for Batman. It would have been so awesome. His death doubtless was heavily responsible for the huge box office success.

    August 19, 2009 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |

    i really liked how this article was written. The best part is that cnn always gets things right. they are wrong in this article though, fake deaths are funny.

    August 19, 2009 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
  24. Alex

    Forgot to mention the "Paul (McCartney) is dead" of 1969.

    August 19, 2009 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
  25. Erica

    Ahhhh! Ain't honesty refreshing??

    August 19, 2009 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
  26. Dennis

    My 90 year old mother believes everything printed in the "Star" a rag sold at food stores. It is the same with soaps people are just not smart enough to realize its made up. It is the dumbing down effect (happens to media people on CNN as well). When hurricane Katrina happened they advised people to use their BBQ`s to cook with. Nancy Grace said how can you do that with no electricity? Duh !

    August 19, 2009 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
  27. Mike Cooney

    This needed to be written. I teach a composition class and am constantly explaining to my students the difference between competent sources and non-competent sources. This article explains how the difference is determined.

    August 19, 2009 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |

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