George H.W. Bush, the country's 41st president, has been in a Houston hospital for more than a month now, undergoing treatment for complications from a serious case of bronchitis. The 88-year-old was checked into intensive care on Wednesday "following a series of setbacks, including a persistent fever."
It was during his stay in the ICU that local radio station WBAP apparently got word that he had died and dispatched a breaking news bulletin via email announcing that Bush had died. Liberally Lean has a screenshot.
That's a bit embarrassing since Bush Sr. remains very much alive. His spokesman told the Associated Press this morning to "put the harps back in the closet," as the former president does not plan on going anywhere.
WBAP quickly realized its error and sent another message.
"A message erroneously reporting the death of President George H.W. Bush was sent out moments ago by WBAP News," it said. "Mr. Bush has not passed away. We sincerely apologize for this error."
News director Rick Hadley forwarded questions about the slip to Dan Bennett, market manager for Cumulus media. We've left a message. Update at 3:03 p.m.: Hadley gave us a call back a moment ago to explain the situation, which he characterized as a huge mistake.
"As every news organization will do, we get our obituaries ready to go for people who aren't doing well," Hadley said.
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In this case, there were the reports that Bush had been transferred to the ICU, so the news team prepared an email blast to be ready for when Bush died. A bit macabre, perhaps, but standard practice.
Hadley says there was a problem with the email system that, unbeknownst to the staff, caused the message to be sent to the station's email distribution list. They didn't realize what had happened until 30 minutes later, when the switchboard began lighting up with callers.
"We would never, obviously, do that on purpose," Hadley said. "We were obviously mortified. It's one of those things you wish you could undo and go back in time take back."
He stressed that the news was never read on the radio, and that the station was able to correct the mistake after the email had been sent to about a third of the station's email subscribers.