Sunday, December 4, 2011

Rev. Billy Graham Will Probably Outlive You

Posted by Jarvis Holliday On 12/04/2011 No comments
The Rev. Billy Graham is many things, but dead he is not. The 93-year-old Charlotte native, and one of the world's most famous evangelists, was admitted to an Asheville hospital last week with pneumonia. And while reports over the last couple of days were saying his condition is improving, WBTV mistakenly reported during its Saturday morning news show that Rev. Graham had died.

According to a statement by WBTV, Charlotte's CBS affiliate, the morning show producer read what he thought was a breaking news crawl on an off-air network feed about Rev. Graham. Without verifying it first, the news was given to anchor Kristen Miranda through her earpiece, who then announced that Rev. Graham had passed away. Fortunately, this wasn't true, and within 10 minutes WBTV made an on-air correction.

That didn't stop the station from getting phone calls and emails throughout the day, but they did the best they could to try to rectify the situation, including posting an apology on their website, Facebook page, and having anchor Sharon Smith address the mistake during the Saturday night newscast, which I happened to see. I'm sure all those involved in the production of the show will forever think twice before reporting breaking news without first verifying it.

The spiritual icon speaks to staff at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in Charlotte last December.

Rev. Graham could live to 100 and beyond, but certainly at his age and the fact that he's had a couple of health scares in recent years, people are more likely to believe it if they hear he's passed away. Because the erroneous report was made early on a Saturday morning around 6:30 a.m., when most people are still sleeping, and the fact that WBTV corrected the mistake rather quickly, the misinformation didn't have long to spread. Had this happened in the afternoon, it would've become a trending topic on Twitter before it could've been retracted.

Now, it is actually common practice for major news outlets to pre-write celebrity obituaries for those famous people who are either very old or are living dangerous lifestyles in which the media believes could lead to their early demise ("Lindsay Lohan and the risks of 'pre-written' obituaries"). When it's done regarding elderly famous people, it can be a benefit such as was the case when Elizabeth Taylor died earlier this year. Within an hour of her death, national television news stations and websites were broadcasting and publishing in-depth reports about her death, which included only a little bit of details about when and how she actually died but more about her recent health problems and the legacy of her 50-plus-year career, which was clearly comprised of reports and footage they had on standby. But when it goes wrong, a celebrity becomes the latest to be "Murdered by the Media."


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