Pat Burns died today. And then he didn’t. Here’s how, so far, the country came to think that a hockey legend was dead—and how the media outlets that killed him tried to take it back.
Pat Burns has died of cancer. That’s, at least, what CTV Ottawa reported this morning. That—CTV Ottawa’s report—led the Montreal Gazette to report on their website that Burns was dead, citing CTV Ottawa’s report. Except, just before noon, CTV Ottawa tweeted that “We had erroneous information on Pat Burns. We have nothing to report about his medical condition at this time.” And then the Gazette took their story offline. The Sun and Star are both now reporting that Burns has passed away—with the Sun as yet citing no sources for the news. Only the Star has the Leafs’ Cliff Fletcher on the record. Fletcher told the paper that Burns “fought a valiant fight.”
: “Hey all, just talked to Pat, and he is grocery shopping.” The Star is now reporting that Burns has not died, according to a close friend. The Sun has updated their original article, as well.
1:14 PM: What do you do when you get a story wrong? If you’re the Montreal Gazette, you pull it offline. If you’re the Sun, you republish a new article where the old one was, and unpublish a column on the death by Chris Stevenson called “An improbable life cut too short.” You do this, and you do this without ever noting that you originally broke the news—the incorrect news, it turns out—that someone has died:
Above, at top: the Gazette‘s story earlier on Friday morning. (A fuller article would appear shortly thereafter, citing CTV Ottawa as the source of the news.) Above, at bottom: the page where the story once was. As of 1:22 p.m., a search for “Pat Burns” of the site reveals no recent articles.
Above, at top: the Sun‘s article, published before noon. Above, at bottom: the Sun‘s updated article, now hosted at the same URL.
2:38 PM: Something else that the Gazette apparently got wrong: TSN never reported that Pat Burns had died. TSN’s Director of Communications, Greg McIsaac, told us that “at no point did TSN report on television, TSN.ca, or Twitter that Pat Burns had passed away.”
4:35 PM: The Gazette, however, maintains that they did get the story from TSN—and they’ve got proof.
Asmaa Malik, the paper’s online associate managing editor, told Torontoist that “we looked at the TSN website at 11:27…and there was an article with the headline ‘Pat Burns passes away at 58.’ The original URL of the story was http://tsn.ca/story/?id=334082.” That link is now broken, but Malik sent Torontoist a screenshot from an assignment editor’s browser history, which appears to show a story with that name, published on TSN, with today’s date. (Malik also pointed to her paper’s follow-up story, titled “Pat Burns has not died.”)
But it’s the National Post—like the Gazette, a Postmedia outlet—that got their hands on a screenshot of a TSN article titled “Pat Burns Passes Away At Age 58”—timestamped 11:09 a.m.
“How they got it, I’m not totally sure,” TSN’s Greg McIsaac told Torontoist. An article that would be published in case of Burns’ death, he says, was being prepared in the sports station’s newsroom—standard, if morbid, practice when a prominent person is very sick. But that article, McIsaac maintains in spite of the Gazette and Post‘s claims otherwise, “didn’t go live” to TSN’s homepage or Twitter.
On Friday afternoon, TSN’s Bob McKenzie took a call from a very much alive Pat Burns. He tweeted:
Pat Burns just called me Seriously. Here’s what he said. “Here we go again. They’re trying to kill me before I’m dead…”
I come to Quebec to spend some time with my family and they say I’m dead. I’m not dead, far f—— from it. They’ve had me dead since June.
Tell I’m alive. Set them straight.” Done, my friend. Done. What a beauty. A great man, a great friend. Just leave him the hell alone.
7:57 PM: The final word, for now, should go to the Toronto Star‘s Damien Cox—he charts out on his Star-hosted blog, The Spin, how word of Burns’ death went from Leafs exec Cliff Fletcher’s mouth to nearly every media outlet in the country.