Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Dead beat

A fake obit story out of South Carolina reminds us of the early Toronto Sun years when obits were taken by phone and published without question.

Obits called into the city desk were passed on to the rewrite desk, or the closest idle reporter. The obits would then be viewed by city desk, the news desk and proofreaders.

On this particular day, a man on the telephone gave a reporter details for an obit. It cleared all of the checkpoints before it was published.

The next day, an astute reader advised the Sun we had been had. It was a fake obit and the telling clue was the name of an island where the supposed deceased had died.

It was, indeed, a fake obit, submitted as a practical joke.

The Sun quickly imposed security checks for all obits, requiring staff to telephone funeral homes to confirm they had called in the obits.

The fake obit and actual funeral arrangements mentioned in the lengthy Post and Courier story were more elaborate than a bogus called-in obit, making it all the more bizarre.

In a nutshell, a woman led the funeral home and the newspaper to believe she had a daughter in the U.S. Air Force who had been killed in Iraq on May 11. A photo of a woman torn from a bridal magazine was used for her "daughter's" obit.

Her motive? She thought a death in the family might buy some time with her creditors.

Numerous people who left words of comfort and condolences on web sites were not amused.

Definitely one for the offbeat news column.

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