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10/29/2009

Reports of ex-Minnesota Viking Orlando Thomas' death greatly exaggerated

October 29, 2009 |  7:30 am

It's every journalist's nightmare: reporting a death that has not actually occurred. Wednesday afternoon the Associated Press distributed a story that said Orlando Thomas, a former defensive back with the Minnesota Vikings, had died of Lou Gehrig's disease at age 37. Then a few hours later came a bulletin issuing a "kill," newspaper-speak for "Don't use that story!" Thomas had not died.

How could this happen? A source at Thomas' alma mater, Louisiana Lafayette, had provided incorrect information to the NFL team, which posted a story on its website. Then AP sent a story with the news of Thomas' passing. Thomas' agent alerted the team that Thomas had not died.

The Vikings, who announced in their first report that they were planning a moment of silence in honor of Thomas before their Nov. 15 game in Minneapolis against  the Detroit Lions, quickly made an apology:

We are thankful that this report was inaccurate and he and his family continue to be in our thoughts. We regret the inaccurate report and send our sincere apologies to Orlando and his family. 

The Minneapolis Star Tribune has more on the story here.

Lesson learned? Confirm the facts before running with the story. Even in the fast-paced world of a 24-hour news cycle, we need to get the story right before getting it first.

-- Claire Noland

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