Not Dead Yet: From Queen Elizabeth II to Clint Eastwood, French site mistakenly runs dozens of VIP obituaries

Several hours after the obituaries first ran Monday, the website of Radio France Internationale apologised, saying unedited drafts had been accidentally published as it moved its website to a new content management system

The New York Times November 18, 2020 21:40:46 IST
Not Dead Yet: From Queen Elizabeth II to Clint Eastwood, French site mistakenly runs dozens of VIP obituaries

File image of Queen Elizabeth II. AP

The reports of their deaths really were, as the saying goes, greatly exaggerated.

For a brief moment this week, startled readers of a French news site had to grapple with the apparent demise of Queen Elizabeth II of England; Pelé, the Brazilian soccer legend; Clint Eastwood; Brigitte Bardot; and dozens of other celebrities and world leaders.

As it turned out, the website of Radio France Internationale had mistakenly published about 100 prewritten obituaries for prominent figures.

Several hours after the obituaries first ran Monday, the public radio station, which broadcasts in France and abroad, apologised and started taking the reports offline. It said that unedited drafts had been accidentally published as it moved its website to a new content management system.

Tech platforms like Google and Yahoo News then automatically picked up some of the articles.

The radio station said in a statement that it wanted to “present its excuses first and foremost to those concerned by these obituaries” and who might have been hurt by the premature announcement of the deaths.

Some of those declared dead before their time responded with good humour.

“Not everybody gets the chance to take note of one’s obituary while still alive,” Abdoulaye Wade, who was president of Senegal from 2000 to 2012, quipped on Facebook after his obituary went out.

Wade, 94, published a current photo of himself dressed in blue and relaxing outside in a lawn chair.

Some French social media users expressed surprise or even outrage that RFI had already written articles about people’s deaths. But that is common practice for media organisations. The New York Times has more than 1,500 advance obituaries of well-known people ready to be quickly updated and published at the time of death.

Discerning readers quickly realized that the obituaries seemed premature. For one thing, important details were lacking.

“Ali Khamenei, supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, died on XXXXX at the age of XXXXXXX,” one read. Others had headlines with capital-letter annotations like “REREAD 30/07” or “LAST UPDATED in JULY 2019” — common warnings left by journalists to help scrambling editors.

For Bernard Tapie, the flamboyant French businessman and former owner of the Olympique de Marseille soccer team, it was not the first, nor even the second but the third time that reports of his death had been greatly exaggerated.

The newspaper Le Monde accidentally published his obituary in 2019, while the sports broadcaster La Chaine L’Équipe erroneously announced his death in an onscreen news ticker earlier this year. Tapie, 77, has stomach and esophageal cancer.

Line Renaud, 92, a French actress and singer, seemed unfazed by her own premature obituary.

She declared on Twitter that she was “in great shape.” In a tweet sprinkled with winking and kissing Emojis, she added: “I still have so many projects to carry out.”

Aurelien Breeden c.2020 The New York Times Company

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