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CNBC apologizes for premature Jesse Jackson obituary

A CNBC electronic newsgathering truck.
A CNBC electronic newsgathering truck. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons, Graphic by The Desk)

Financial news channel CNBC apologized on Monday after someone erroneously published a pre-written obituary for the activist Reverend Jesse Jackson.

The story, which carried the byline of CNBC intern Annika Kim Constantino, claimed the activist and former presidential candidate had died Monday afternoon at the age of 81. A Twitter account associated with CNBC picked up the obituary and linked to it in a now-deleted post.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the financial news network blamed the premature publication on a “technical issue,” which the channel was attempting to troubleshoot at the time.

“We sincerely apologize to Rev. Jackson and the public for the error,” the spokesperson for the Comcast-owned channel said.

It is common practice for news organizations to pre-write obituaries for politicians, athletes, musicians and other famous and notable individuals. As time goes on, these obituaries are frequently updated for a number of reasons, including to update the age of the individual and to include additional, relevant information.

While some news outlets choose to keep these pre-written obituaries on internal servers, others sometimes place them in the content management systems of their websites. The latter practice has been linked to dozens of examples of news publications accidentally killing off a notable person before their time is actually up.

In 2003, CNN erroneously killed off several notable people, including comedian Bob Hope and then-vice president Dick Cheney, when “human error” led to their obituaries running on the news network’s website. The issue was first identified by the Smoking Gun website; a CNN spokesperson said it was unclear how long the obituaries had been on the Internet until the issue was brought to the network’s attention.

Five years earlier, the website of the Associated Press was also found to have published a pre-mature obituary for Hope. The obituary led to one member of Congress announcing his death during a session of the House of Representatives, which was walked back when it was discovered the comedian was alive.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).