Huffpost Media

Media Misreport Stephanie Tubbs-Jones Death

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Several major news organizations, including The Associated Press, prematurely reported the death Wednesday of U.S. Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones of Ohio, who had suffered a brain hemorrhage while driving in suburban Cleveland.

The reports were corrected after a doctor said at an afternoon news conference that Tubbs Jones was in critical condition with limited brain function. The Cleveland Clinic announced later that the 58-year-old Democrat died about 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Various Democratic officials who spoke on condition of anonymity provided the basis for most of the erroneous reports. They were out for anywhere from a few minutes to a half hour on CNN, CBS, Fox and Web sites for The Washington Post and The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer as well as the AP.

The AP moved its one-sentence, Washington-dated NewsAlert reporting the death at 2:30 p.m., attributing the information to a Democratic Party official. After the hospital news conference, the AP moved out a corrected alert at 2:44 p.m.

According to AP Washington News Editor Matt Yancey, the AP had spoken earlier to Democratic and Republican officials about Tubbs Jones' condition and they declined to speak on the record or on background. One of the Democratic officials later called back and, willing to speak on condition of anonymity, said Tubbs Jones had died.

That official later told the AP that both Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office and House Democratic Whip James Clyburn's office, as well as Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland's office, had been told that Tubbs Jones was dead. One Democratic leadership office sent out e-mails about 1 p.m. to other Democratic lawmakers' offices saying she had died.

"Once Nancy's notified, I've never seen it wrong before," the official said, again speaking on condition of anonymity.

Strickland spokesman Keith Dailey said "multiple local and national media reports" prompted the governor to issue a statement mourning her passing, but he declined to specify which reports.

The Washington Post, which erroneously reported the death on its "Capitol Briefing" blog, cited an anonymous Democratic source in its initial report.

"Capitol Briefing apologizes for the error and will be more careful as he continues to report this story," wrote Post writer Ben Pershing.

The Plain Dealer's story was on its Web site for about half an hour, said Susan Goldberg, the newspaper's editor. She said the newspaper based its report on "multiple trusted sources" and a high-ranking local Democratic party official.

"I think there's a lot of soul-searching going on here about this," she said. "Obviously we all feel terrible about it."

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Associated Press writer Andrew Taylor in Washington contributed to this report.