The Way I See It

Pat Bigold

By Pat Bigold

Tuesday, January 26, 1999

NBC goofed in its
report that said the
‘Clipper’ died

You're supposed to make sure a guy is dead before you bury him, and Dateline NBC obviously forgot that Sunday night.

''This is an NBC News Special Report. Baseball legend Joe DiMaggio has died at his Florida home. He was 84 years old and had."

That was it. Twenty minutes later, NBC made a correction of the report sent out mostly on East Coast stations and tried to apologize to the Yankee Clipper -- who just happened to be watching.

Errors like this force people to call press conferences to announce they're alive.

And if they're not doing very well in the first place, that can be a big inconvenience.

I can tell you our sports department policy is to do our best to check for a pulse before we pronounce someone or something dead in our pages.

Of course, that was hardly necessary at the end of last football season when Hawaii was 0-12. The Rainbows began the season as dead as the ball they punted into oblivion. Remember the end of that old Charlton Heston movie, ''El Cid," when the Cid's soldiers tied his corpse to the saddle and slapped the horse's behind to make onlookers think he was still ticking?

I've been pronounced alive some nights in the newsroom when someone has had the consideration to feel the underside of my wrist while I snored into my keyboard.

Making sure is just etiquette.

I will admit that I've thought some people who are alive were dead, but I've never written it. (Yet)

I'm sure Mike Tyson is brain dead, but I can't prove it.

I am however pretty sure the Rainbow Warrior mascot is dead because it's bloated and decaying.

But all my tasteless humor aside, the DiMaggio blooper was a sharp line drive off the darkest wall of the newsroom.

A technician accidentally released the report of the Hall of Famer's demise. It had been written by a NBC employee and stored in a computer after the New York Daily News reported Joltin' Joe, who has lung cancer, was in grave condition and nothing more could be done for him.

The ghoulish duty of a news organization is to anticipate a famous person's death, write it, and be ready to release it on a moment's notice.

A friend said DiMaggio was ''livid" about the report, and I can't blame him. Heck, he's up and walking now.

Even though it was clearly a mistake, it revealed to him that the media is hovering like a vulture.

That's a label news people often have to bear because anticipating the worst is one of the things we must do best.


Well, the answer is that the worst seems to occur a lot more often than the best. And when it happens to the very visible people in our world, there's an awful lot of interest in it.

Sad to say, but everyone will pay a lot more attention to Joe DiMaggio the day he dies than they will while he clings to life.

Pat Bigold has covered sports for daily newspapers
in Hawaii and Massachusetts since 1978.

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