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The passing of TV star, Erin Moran was a sad news story for anyone who was a fan of the iconic Happy Days sitcom.  For many of the baby boomer generation, she was a familiar and identifiable star who was the perfect little sister for some, the love interest for others, and the ideal best friend to the rest.  The audience could straightforwardly relate to her character on the show.

So, her death this past Saturday, April 18, 2017, had impact on so many of us.  As we all inevitably age, it seems that increasingly our idolized juvenile icons are passing away.  And with them, we are all losing a part of our youthful identities.  So, we mourn the loss of Erin’s character, Joanie Cunningham from Happy Days, and perhaps, a little bit of ourselves too.  I say the loss of her character, as the audience did not really know Erin the actress, they knew Joanie, the character.  There is a difference.

What was most shocking in this story, was the way the mainstream press handled the news of Erin’s passing.  The initial hard news line announcing her death was so loaded with errors and fake facts, that it was obscenely wrong.  It was all made-up.

Now, a lot of the secondary and amateur news sources carried the story and made up whatever they liked to say about her.  As the audience, we have grown immune to their fake news and filter it naturally as we see fit.  But the hardcore press is expected to be truthful.  We expect them to be trustworthy, reliable, and accurate.  We believe that they double-check their sources, validate the details, and provide us with the real news.  In this case, the so called professional journalist failed completely.

Initially it was reported that she died in a motel.  She was reported to be alone.  It was greatly alluded that a drug overdose with heroin was the cause of death.

In reality, she passed away while watching television and holding her husband’s hand.  She died in her sleep.  Erin died of stage four squamous cell carcinoma cancer that she had been struggling with, and receiving chemo and radiation treatment for, since Thanksgiving 2016.

The police reported that no illegal drugs were found, nor suspected.  The coroner reported that the cause of death was likely due to the cancer.  However, toxicology reports are not yet available therefore the report file is still open.  The assumption of illegal narcotic use is currently dubious at best, perhaps completely made up, and absolutely unsupportable at this time.

While a death is a death, regardless of the cause, rhythm, or reason, the loss is still a loss.

Scott Baio

But, the initial news has a cause and effect characteristic.  Some of her friends and acquaintance reacted to her death with tweets, during on-camera interviews, and with press releases, all reacting to the initial false news reports related to the so-called drug overdose.  Once the true medical reports made headlines, all those people were caught out for amplifying the false news.  The press turned on them instantly, shifting the false news story focus off of themselves in order to clarify the friend’s derogatory statements.  These friends were all forced to defend themselves from the attacking press.  So, the initial fake news was a catalyst for the propagation of more fake news.  Scott Baio, one of her 1970s co-stars, was especially caught in this daisy chain of fake news.

No one wins with fake news, at least not the main participants.  Not the stars, nor the readers.  But, perhaps the news agencies do win?  They make more money with sensational headlines and tragic deaths.  This false news happens because of the public’s constant craving for secrets, headlines, gossip, and stories about their favourite celebrities.  The public’s appetite for sensational news is akin to the press shoving food into the mouths of fire breathing dragons.  The public’s appetite can never be satisfied, so the news sources generate whatever they think will fill its gut.  Even if it is all false.

Truly, I find it all disenchanting to realized that the classic press is no better than the amateur press these days.  There was an expectation of them, that no longer seems to be realistic to hold, that they could be trusted.  However, they are now pursuing the holy grail – the revenue streams – just like the fake news organizations.

There is a valuable lesson here.  As consumers of news, we all need to change our approach, and hold off our reactions, so we have time to filter out the truth in the stories and form our own considered opinions.

We may never have truthful news again.  Maybe we never did have it at all?

If you think about it all, news has always been somewhat coloured by the inherent bias of the reporters and the readers anyway.  Politics, propaganda, social leanings, ethics, values, and more have always stained the news as far back as history can record.  But, it was the expectation for the pursuit of truth that made us trust the classic news agencies.  If the traditional press is no longer pursuing truth as a first principle of journalism, then they cannot be respected or valued in the same way.

Walter Cronkite, where are you?  We need you now!

About the Author:

Michael Martin has more than 35 years of experience in broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless and digital communications technologies. He is a Senior Executive Consultant with IBM Canada’s GTS Network Services Group. Over the past 11 years with IBM, he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He was previously a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN:TSX). Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO:TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX:TSX.V).  He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) and on the Board of Advisers of four different Colleges in Ontario as well as for 16 years on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section.  He holds three Masters level degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has diplomas and certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology.