News & Politics

Millions Fall for Fake CNN Death Hoax Reporting Barbara Bush's Passing a Day Early

Millions Fall for Fake CNN Death Hoax Reporting Barbara Bush's Passing a Day Early
First Lady Barbara Bush poses with her dog Millie in 1990. (AP Photo/Doug Mills)

More than two million people fell for a fake news article, purported to be from CNN but actually from a sham site, that reported former first lady Barabara Bush’s death on Monday, a day before her actual passing on Tuesday.

On Sunday, a spokesman for Mrs. Bush announced that she was in failing health and wouldn’t seek additional treatment.

“Following a recent series of hospitalizations, and after consulting her family and doctors, Mrs. Bush, now age 92, has decided not to seek additional medical treatment and will instead focus on comfort care,” spokesman Jim McGrath said in a news release.

Bush, 92, passed away peacefully at home on Tuesday afternoon, after succumbing to complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart failure.

Sometime on Monday morning, a fake news website called “breaking-cnn.compublished an article with the headline: “Former first lady Barbara Bush dies at 92.” The article, which is still available on the fake CNN website, read, in part:

NEW YORK — Former first lady Barbara Bush has died “peacefully in her sleep”, a spokesman for the Bush family said she died on Sunday evening.
92-year old Bush died hours after announcing that she will not seek additional medical care.
She made headlines in the past 24 hours that she was in failing health and would not seek additional medical care after a series of recent hospitalizations.
Millions of Facebook users saw this in their feeds yesterday:
It appears that Facebook has blocked users from seeing the fake news article, but not before it was shared on the platform more than two million times.

It was also tweeted by more than two thousand people and shared by a number of prominent sources including: KCOH-TV, KMRK-FM, WZAB-AM, WJML-AM, WFNC-AM, and WQSM-FM. Reporters from Telemundo and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram also shared the bogus report, along with the AARP and the Lake County, Ohio, Republican Party.
The story gained so much traction that Sam Feist, CNN’s Washington bureau chief, was forced to issue a tweet disassociating the network from the story.

A website called Hoax Alert says the article is associated with a “network of fake news websites that all have normal looking front pages with some generic news stories taken from other websites but which frequently publish hoax articles on other parts of the site that aren’t immediately obvious to visitors.” The sites frequently traffic in celebrity death hoaxes. Hoax Alert has a list of other fake news sites in the same network with the sham CNN site.

Full disclosure: I was among the millions who fell for the hoax. Not only did I fall for it, but I was also guilty of spreading the news to others. I scrolled past the story, which looked like it had come from CNN, but didn’t bother clicking on it to verify the source before assuming it was true. It’s getting more difficult by the day to tell the difference between fake and real news—even for trained professionals who should know better.

My thoughts and prayers are with the Bush family. Mrs. Bush was an exemplary first lady and an inspiration to millions around the world. May she rest in peace.