Is Joe Paterno Dead ?

January 22, 2012 by staff 

Is Joe Paterno Dead ?, CBS Sports apologized for reporting Saturday that former Penn State coach Joe Paterno had died, saying it had fallen “well short” of its own journalistic standards. Paterno’s family had quickly denied the report, but not before it was tweeted or reported by a slew of other media outlets, all of which raced to update their initial reports after the denial.

Apologizing to the Paterno family and the Penn State community, managing editor Mark Swanson said CBS Sports had relied on “an unsubstantiated report” and failed to verify it.

“ holds itself to high journalistic standards, and in this circumstance tonight, we fell well short of those expectations,” he wrote late Saturday.

After the Paterno family disputed its death story, CBS replaced it with one saying it had based its report on the reporting of a Penn State student website, Onward State. The managing editor of the student site resigned Saturday night, saying he never expected its reporting to be picked up by the national media and adding, “I sincerely wish it never had been.” (His full statement is below.)

The New York Times and CNN were among the first to get a denial from a Paterno family spokesman that the 85-year-old, battling lung cancer, had died. By then several news outlets and reporters, including TheWrap, The Huffington Post, CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Howard Kurtz, the host of the journalism standards show “Reliable Sources,” had written about the death, all after the CBS report. Even the group Poynter, a champion of accurate journalism, tweeted that Paterno had died.

All the reporters and organizations quickly changed their stories as the CBS account came into doubt. So began an ugly game of finger pointing in a media hall of mirrors, where primary sources were initially hard to come by.

The blame fell on CBS, which tried to pass it to the small student site. But it also lay with those who cited CBS’s story without confirming it independently. (The Wrap cited the CBS death story and linked to it in the second paragraph of an earlier version of this story, without first contacting a Paterno spokesman. We regret this error.)

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