Bogus info bungles reckless reporters
Posted March 24, 2006

It’s been said that all press is good press. Well if that’s the case, then Will Ferrell had one hell of a great week. No, he didn’t have a No.1 smash hit at the box office nor did he have a steamy rendezvous with Linsday Lohan. Rather, according to iNewswire.com, he died.

Now before all you Ferrell fans start freaking out like Frank the Tank during the locker room scene in “Old School,” don’t panic – the funnyman is in fact alive, “kicking and screaming” (Sorry, we couldn’t resist).

On March 14, the online wire service received a “press release,” which falsely announced that Ferrell died in a paragliding accident. He, along with his guide, supposedly crashed into trees and hit the ground “at an estimated 60 mph” after a gust of wind caused them to lose control.

Now any average Will Ferrell fan – or any individual who can spell and/or do basic math – could probably detect the suspicious falsities within the bogus release. Lets take a look at this rather morbid prank:

• “Actor Will Ferrell accidentally died in a freak para-gliding accident yesterday in Torey Pines, Southern California.” – Now maybe only diehard Ferrell buffs would recognize the coincidence, but Ferrell’s “Wedding Crashers” character Chaz Reingold referred to a man dying by – drumroll please – a hang-gliding accident. Oh, and Ferrell was – and still is – roughly 2,463 miles away in Montreal filming a movie, not partaking in extreme sports in Southern California.

• “Will was a graduate of the University of California” – No single institution by that name exists. Rather, he graduated from the University of Southern California.

• “Mary and Hubert Ferrell said their sonn died while doing one of the things he loved the most.” – Lee (a musician) and Kay Ferrell (a teacher) are his parents’ real names. And we certainly can’t overlook the extra “n” in son, can we?

• “Will was born on July 16, 1968. He was 36.” – Now, we can admit that us journalists may not be the best mathematicians on the planet, but come on! Ferrell was born on July 18, 1967 and is currently 38.

Matthew Labov, Ferrell’s publicist, confirmed in an e-mail to E! News Online on March 14 that the release was obviously a hoax, but through email, radio and word of mouth, many news organizations flooded Labov with calls. Labov insists that Ferrell is perfectly fine and, in fact, has never even paraglided.

Ferrell isn’t the first celebrity to be pronounced dead due to swirling rumors via the Internet. Rock ‘n’ roll legend Lou Reed, actor John Goodman, “Napoleon Dynamite” star Jon Heder and dozens of other celebrities have also been prematurely eulogized by scoop-hungry media organizations.

Unfortunately, false information seeping through journalist’s fingertips and into the public domain is nothing new. Think back to the 1948 presidential election, when the Chicago Daily Tribune jumped the gun and printed the now iconic headline “Dewey Defeats Truman.”

A more recent example is the Sago Mine disaster that took place this past January in West Virginia, where it was announced that 12 of the 13 trapped miners survived the chemical explosion. The New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today and CNN all rejoiced, only for it to be proven hearsay a mere couple of hours later.

The media has garnered tons of flack recently for improper sourcing and poor fact checking, which leads to erroneous reporting.

Timeliness has always been a major factor in the media. However, with the rise of 24-hour cable news networks and news Web sites just a click or two away, the media is now prematurely jumping the gun to publish or to air the most “newsworthy” information – true or false.

Yes, the hotter off the presses the better. And believe us, nothing is more satisfying to a journalist than being the first to break a story. But sometimes this rush to get the story out in the open clouds one of the most fundamental principles of journalism: Seek the truth. And the truth, in most cases, takes a little extra time and some much-needed research.

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