Monday, December 16, 2013

What Would Lincoln Say...and Is He Really Dead?

By Peter Rodman

Peter Rodman--at this writing,
still claiming to be alive. 

(You be the judge.)
A handful of recent "deaths" (some real, some fake) have been reported--not just on Facebook, but pretty much everywhere.
I am not writing this to blame anyone for reporting the false information--but I think I 'get' what's happening here, and you will too...if you haven't already.
It's actually a relatively new phenomenon. Well...maybe not 'new' per say, but the brazen nature of it, and the zeal behind it, seem pretty 'new,' in an even sadder way.
We underestimate the zeal of youngsters to "spoof" or "hoax" people through the internet at our own risk.
You've heard of 'Gen X' and 'Gen Y'...
Welcome to 'Gamer Gen'--where everything's a game-- and it's especially fun, if it's inappropriate--like tricking a family into thinking their loved one has died.
I wish I were kidding...but I'm not. 
Believe me, I realize this is about as 'icky' a subject as I could possibly pick for a blog, but I'm writing this with a sincere hope of forestalling anymore needless heartaches or finger-pointing.  Let's fight this stuff with smarts.
The truth is, if you read this whole thing, and any of this happens to you again, it's YOUR fault...not the fault of whomever wrote what you read, or said what you heard.  

We want to think it simply *cannot* be true, that some heartless fool would falsely report a death (i.e., the great Sam Moore, of 'Sam & Dave,' just two weeks ago) JUST to fool people.
Sam Moore happened--and I fell for it myself, even though I could have called directly to find out.  I don't know why it took me so long to double-check...but immediately upon 'finding out' Sam had 'died,' I went to my tape archive and began editing the most heartfelt compilation of interviews and music I could.  It's what I do, now that I'm a retiree.  More accurately:  It's all I can do, to express grief, happiness, or love.  Three hours later, I posted a really cool Sam show, for people who (like me) felt like hearing his one-of-a-kind voice one more time, speaking as distinctively as he sings. (Or "sang," I thought.) Pretty soon, somebody came on to say they'd checked with his wife...and Sam was very much ALIVE AND WELL. 
I immediately took down my "tribute" interview show, and re-checked my sources (a great singer who knows Sam intimately was one who had said he died), and they were eminently reliable. So what happened here?
We got punk'd, that's what.
And even after the REAL family had actually confirmed that he was alive, more elaborate 'articles' surfaced--all very official looking--insisting that the new reports (of him being alive) were a hoax!
Game on.

Fast-forward to this past Saturday, when the country singer Ray Price ("For the Good Times") was falsely reported to have died, one day after his family's sad announcement that his terminal illness would require hospice care, as nothing more could be done to fight his maladies.
Do you remember when Freddie Mercury (of Queen) announced that he had AIDS on a Saturday, and was gone by Monday?  If so, it was not entirely unexpected to hear the reports of Mr. Price's supposed demise.
But once the family denied it,  there came a tsunami of social network know-it-alls, angrily blaming the messengers (news outlets like The Tennessean and CMT, who briefly picked up the story)...and they are partially right to say the story should have been checked better...but are being a bit too hasty in their judgements, as well.
Like I say, this is relatively new territory--and even most of us 'hardened media types' have not traversed such low terrain before.

Let's look at the actual sequence of events:
Ray Price
I will not name specific names, but an immediate family member who runs Ray's own website says HE saw a very convincing post ('article') about his father's death, on that site, which prompted HIM to officially announce his own Dad's death.
Considering that source, I hardly think The Tennessean or CMT are to blame...this time.  (I'll explain that shortly.)
It seemed plausible enough, given the fact that just two days earlier the Price family jointly issued a "farewell statement" from Ray himself, essentially saying he was going to hospice to die.
I believe the words "last days" were used at the time, but that may be false--just like anything else you read on the internet, if you're starting to get my drift.
But the clear impression from the family had been that 'it won't be long.'
Does that justify a premature announcement (let alone confirmation) of Ray's death?
Of course not.
False is false.

...or is it?

Two things are at play here:
1.) The barrage of sympathetic posts on Facebook and Twitter, reacting to the LEGIT ('hospice') announcement led MORE than a few fans and friends to carelessly post messages of sympathy that started with "Godspeed, Ray!" and morphed into "R.I.P., Ray." That's just the nature of the beast.
It's like playing that old game of "telephone."
(If you're too young to remember it, ask a codger you love.)
Now imagine being an already-grieving family member, who runs Dad's website, knowing his Dad is dying already...and tell me he's to blame, for believing somebody's sudden 'confirmation' of Mr. Price's demise, on the site.  Especially if he weren't able to contact anybody, to verify it.
Fact is, you or I might have fallen for it, too.
But that ain't the half of it, unfortunately.
A half dozen of my friends who are revered newspaper writers also got fooled, this time around.

So what's going on here?  Was the son to blame for falsely reporting his Dad's death?
Obviously a third party posted the very convincing 'death notice' on his Dad's Facebook 'fan' page, a post that he (the son) became convinced was true.
It's seems pretty heartless to blame the guy (‘estranged’ or not) for thinking, “Oh, my God…Dad died!”
It looked 'real' enough to HIM, is all that matters--and it played upon his vulnerabilities, at the worst time possible. That's just cause for sadness, not anger.

Was it the best time possible, for a devious mind tp plant the story--fooling even his family?
In other words...and I hate to say this: Was the whole 'mistake' somehow intentional???
(Not by the family, nor anyone connected with them--but by a person intent on starting that brushfire of rumor, by posting a falsehood in the exact right place at the exact right time?)
  (Note: In a sad bit of irony, 87 year old Ray Price actually passed away six hours after this blog was written, posted, and sent out. It could not physically be withdrawn, but I was able to edit in this addendum:
"Since this column concerns the relatively new phenomenon of  internet hoaxes and media missteps  concerning celebrity deaths, it will stay up--with absolutely no disrespect intended whatsoever, to a fine country music artist. My thoughts are with Ray's family--all of whom have undergone a needlessly hideous three-day ordeal, at the hands of internet pranksters, increasing already existing family tensions at a time when they least needed it. My sincere hope remains the same as when I wrote it--that by better informing readers about HOW these incidents actually happen, the likelihood of them happening all over again will decrease, going forward." --PR )

Let me repeat, I too was recently fooled (in the case of Sam Moore) and embarrassingly published those sad thoughts and touching excerpts from our past interviews...simply because I loved Sam. Well, it turns out I still love him, because (as Sam's wife straightened out the very next day) Sam is very much still with us!  In other words, this phenomenon is becoming all too common.
So I am not at all inclined to judge the outlets who falsely relayed reports THEY thought sounded least not THIS time.  Not The Tennessean, nor CMT, nor even Ray Price's son or brother or cousin or whatever. Nor do I feel anybody else should berate these people. They are already grieving.

In a truly weird twist, the last time this happened (a few weeks ago, when Lou Reed died) countless "credible" reports said he DIDN'T die...and we all (well, most of us anyway, if only for a second) fell for that hopeful 'truth,' too.
Sadly, it turns out a TRULY sick Lou Reed "death denial" was published on a website which prides itself on 'hoaxing' deaths either way, including falsely stating the person is still living.  What they are trying to prove, I don't know.

"Something is happening here, and you don't know what it is.  
Do you, Mister Jones?" --Bob Dylan

Here's the thing:
'The Onion' is a hilarious website we all know, that posts preposterous (false) headlines for the sake of humor. "Borowitz Report?" (in The New Yorker)...same-same. Both are brilliant.
But what we have lately began to unpeel is a much stinkier 'onion'--one created by ninja numbskulls who've made it their business to convince you the truth is false--and their First Frontier is "celebrity deaths."
Lou Reed
So not only has Jackie Chan NOT died, as they said he had over and over, in the first example of this, years ago; but Lou Reed has not NOT died.
(In other words...he's actually dead.)
But that took the better part of TWO DAYS to confirm--even for reputable news outlets.
This more blatant 'spoofing,' (if that's the term) is all fairly new and complicated stuff.
Near as I can tell, most of the elaborate "fooled you" sites (regarding celebrity deaths) work this way:
Either A.) In very sensitive times (Ray just entered hospice last week) when people EXPECT bad news, some source finds the perfect time--and a convincing graphic, well placed (i.e., on Price's own fan page)--to "announce" that death with 'an article' that looks "real."
Boom.  Fire started.

B.) When people reflexively wish a sudden death announcement weren't true (through their own shock or grief, as with Lou Reed) somebody who thinks they're being clever convincely announces that it's NOT true, using almost all the same tricks.
Both are *eminently* exploitable scenarios, because of all the emotional investment in beloved characters, public and private--and both scenarios actually HAPPENED, as shown above--fooling not just legit news outlets, but actual family members.
More and more, we're seeing this very thing (exploitation hoaxes) happen.

After the Lou Reed embarrassment, I went back and looked a bit more closely at all the articles that had said "Lou Reed Still Alive; Death Reports Are A Hoax" ...and once you actually go to those sources,  you'll find (albeit in fine print)  very clear disclaimers that said these were so-called "humor" or "parody" webites, thus presumably indemnifying them from libel suits, for printing TOTALLY FALSE SHIT! (The print wasn't immediately noticable, but it was there.)
So when you see an 'article' that looks JUST like a newspaper obituary, but in the small print under it the site source says something like  '' or '' (I made those up just now; insert any unfamiliar name) remember: These are LOSERS, who just think it's 'funny' to do this shit.

On another (slightly different) subject (though they both fall firmly under the "gullable" category), the
foundation for all of the above comes from a long line of false posts by "Warren Buffet," "Bill Cosby,"  "George Carlin," and "Morgan Freeman,"all of whichcan be readily debunked at

I still see otherwise intellegent friends re-posting totally bogus "John Lennon" quotes, just because they sound good. And even if you gently point it out to them, they'll say, "Well I like it anyway," or some such thing.  Turns out we just want to believe what we want to believe. 

The truth is, nearly nothing attached to any of the above names (John Lennon, etc.) is anything they actually said in real life--or (as in the case of Buffett) it's been embellished with all manner of whack-job libertarian crapola.
Take it from me, it's no more "true" than that Nigerian inheritance e-mail you once got, ten years ago.

Someday, "reverse death hoax" websites will be a known thing to teach your kids to look out for.  So far, though...not really.

Meanwhile, I'm sticking with my favorite adage:

"Never believe anything you read on the internet."
--Abraham Lincoln

This Column Copyright 2013 by Peter Rodman. All Rights Reserved.

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