It's one of the industry's worst-kept secrets that media orgs write obituaries for prominent figures ahead of time, and premature publication can seem like a fate worse than death for a humiliated newsroom.
Oh, it happens. A lot actually. The latest victim is Radio France Internationale (RFI), which spaffed a bunch of pre-written notices about the expiry of several famous (and infamous) faces across its website yesterday.
One of those was Her Maj Elizabeth II, globally beloved Queen of the United Kingdom, for whom, at the ripe old age of 94, we can say close but no cigar. On the other hand, who knows what life-extending tech the Royal Family has under wraps at Windsor or Balmoral?
Bathing in the blood of virgins apocryphally worked for another highborn, Countess Báthory of Hungary, history's most prolific female serial killer. And a more modern-day member of tech nobility, Peter Thiel, is definitely not harvesting the vital fluid of youths... but it's fun to pretend.
What we mean to say is we could be waiting a while yet.
Others said to have kicked the bucket include Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, which would be music to the ears of whoever is supposed to be running the United States right now, Cold War US prez Jimmy Carter, and Raúl Castro, who inherited the title of First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba from his better-known brother, Fidel, in 2011.
All are still very much alive and kicking. But how did RFI explain the error? Why, it was "un problème technique" (a technical problem) of course.
🔴 Un problème technique a entraîné la publication de nombreuses nécrologies sur notre site.— RFI (@RFI) November 16, 2020
Nous sommes mobilisés pour rectifier ce bug majeur et présentons nos excuses aux personnes concernées ainsi qu'à vous qui nous suivez et nous faites confiance.
Some were surprised by the implication. "Does that mean that the obituaries are written before the deaths?" asked one shocked onlooker.
A more detailed statement explained that the mass publishing of early "nécrologies" (which is a much cooler word for it to be fair to the French) was linked to RFI migrating its website to a new content management system.
"These articles were therefore published as drafts without any editorial intervention," the station added. Unfortunately, RFI also admitted that the error proliferated across "several partner platforms" including Google, Yahoo!, MSN, and Flipboard.
So some poor intern has had a lot of deleting to do.
Still, it's not as bad as what has come to be known as "The CNN.com Incident" of 2003 wherein the American news giant mistakenly published multiple draft obits, one of which described George W Bush's vice-president, Dick Cheney, as the "UK's favorite grandmother". That coveted title of course fell to the Queen Mother, who died in 2002 and whose death notice had apparently been used as a template. Cheney is still hanging on at 79. ®