Courtesy of MCT
Nora Ephron, a beloved filmmaker and author, died Tuesday at the age of 71, but it wasn’t until after the media botched reports of her death in embarrassing and disrespectful fashion.
Ephron, perhaps best known for penning romantic comedies such as “When Harry Met Sally” and “Sleepless in Seattle” (which she also directed), suffered from a form of leukemia. By all accounts, she hadn’t long to live, but WowOwow.com prematurely published an in memoriam piece Tuesday by columnist Liz Smith, which set the Internet ablaze in rumor which ultimately turned out to be false.
This isn’t the first time the media has inaccurately pronounced someone dead. Former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno’s death was prematurely announced by a PSU blog, Onward State. Bloomberg accidentally published a pre-packaged obituary for Steve Jobs in 2008. Jobs died in 2011.
Writing obituaries for celebrities years and even decades in advance is standard practice but it’s something that’s got to be kept under a tight lid. It’s not particularly dignifying to that person or their family to have a death made a mockery of.
I don’t know if that’s what happened with Ephron or if the reporter just got a bad tip, but regardless, death is something our industry needs to be sensitive about. It’s probably not enjoyable for the families to have to deal with rampant rumor and speculation about your loved one’s death while you’re enjoying your last moments with them.
I was browsing Twitter Tuesday night. A quick look at TMZ’s Twitter feed saw three tweets within 24 minutes, two saying she had actually died, one saying she was still alive.
This was at the point where her death was confirmed, but these outlets need to get a better grip of what they’re sending out. Misreporting the Drake-Chris Brown bar fight is one thing. Someone’s death is another.
Even @BreakingNews, a legitimate news source and aggregator for, you guessed it, breaking news, had trouble getting its facts straight even after her death was confirmed, inaccurately tweeting that Ephron directed “When Harry Met Sally,” which she did not. That’s not as egregious as inaccurately reporting her death, but it was a case of one thing on top of another.
Ephron was beloved. Her films are some of the greatest products to come out of their genre. I loathe almost all modern rom-coms, but “Sleepless in Seattle” and “When Harry Met Sally” are undeniable classics. Even so, she was still a human. The media owed to her and her family to treat her as such, and not turn her death into a circus, which it did.