President Ford Dies; Instant Obit Surfaces

Gerald Ford, a rare “regular guy” President, has just died. I remember him as being bland and unremarkable, though I did appreciate his WIN (whip inflation now) buttons. Wasn’t that a simpler age?

The thing about ex-Presidents is that every paper of record is ready with a full-tilt obituary at the moment a death is announced. Thus, I discovered the news at the Washington Post a second ago…and this annoucement came with a five webpage story behind it. This is to be expected, I suppose. Still, I would have preferred a few hours of “breaking news”, complete with only a short story. Somehow the delivery of the insta-obit took the focus off the news event itself. And it almost seems more respectful not to deliver the canned bio so quickly. At least make it look like someone scurried around for a few hours.

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8 Responses

  1. Patrick S. O'Donnell says:

    At his age, and given recent stays at the hospital for this and that, President Ford’s death could hardly amount to ‘breaking news’ or much of a ‘news event’ (in which case, reference to the ‘canned bio’ is no longer pejorative). Obits on many famous or important people are in some measure prepared in advance, which I would think facilitates ‘fact-checking’ and even better written obituaries than if the converse were the case. Incidentally, there’s been some articles and at least one book of late that discuss the craft of obituary writing. And from Wikipedia, we learn that ‘The British Medical Journal encourages doctors to write their own obituaries for publication after their death,’ something Stoics and Buddhists might appreciate insofar as such a practice facilitates some reflection on death in both an abstract yet personal manner. I suppose this is my roundabout way of saying I don’t quite see how this is in any way disrespectful….

  2. Patrick S. O'Donnell says:

    At his age, and given recent stays at the hospital for this and that, President Ford’s death could hardly amount to ‘breaking news’ or much of a ‘news event’ (in which case, reference to the ‘canned bio’ is no longer pejorative). Obits on many famous or important people are in some measure prepared in advance, which I would think facilitates ‘fact-checking’ and even better written obituaries than if the converse were the case. Incidentally, there’s been some articles and at least one book of late that discuss the craft of obituary writing. And from Wikipedia, we learn that ‘The British Medical Journal encourages doctors to write their own obituaries for publication after their death,’ something Stoics and Buddhists might appreciate insofar as such a practice facilitates some reflection on death in both an abstract yet personal manner. I suppose this is my roundabout way of saying I don’t quite see how this is in any way disrespectful….

  3. KC says:

    You got it right. Any prominent person these days who seems somewhat likely to die already has a prewritten obit nearly finished. Pity the newspaper who doesn’t have one ready when the crosstown rival does…

    I think it’s good planning, even if morbid to consider.

  4. Dave Hoffman says:

    I’m reading about him in the obit you mention, and find myself liking him immensely. (Having not been alive when he was president!). Great line and telling story from the Times: “He invited to the White House individuals who had been excluded as political “enemies” in the lists kept by the Nixon administration. When Mr. Ford heard, as a Republican in Congress, that Mr. Nixon kept such a list, he said to an aide, “Anybody who can’t keep his enemies in his head has too many enemies.””

  5. David S. Cohen says:

    I wonder if Hunter Thompson had this obit of Nixon, the best I saw at the time, just lying in wait.

  6. Peter Spiro says:

    My favorite example from an obit written well in advance: Cyrus Vance was interviewed for and quoted in his own in the NY Times. Just another (small) way to shape a historical legacy.

  7. Eric says:

    A few years ago the NYT ran a canned obit on the front page. The problem was that the obit writer, whose name appeared in the byline, was already dead himself.

    –Eric

    New York Personal Injury Law Blog

  8. Columbia Law Student says:

    All of the news networks have obituaries ready to go for many people. I worked at a major television news organization about five years ago, and on their system they had obituaries ready for a bunch of people, though only a few “major” people had extensive entries (these included all of the living Presidents, Hillary Clinton, Pope John Paul II, Bob Hope, and a few others).

    In the news business “getting the story” first is important. By having pre-made news packages, the networks enable themselves to cover the story without rushing like crazy to put something together (which would be more likely to contain errors). Given that Gerald Ford planned his own funeral, I don’t think having a news package about his life pre-prepared is disrespectful.