When film composer Maurice Jarre died in March, a number of newspapers and blogs carried this quote attributed to him: "One could say my life itself has been one long soundtrack. Music was my life, music brought me to life, and music is how I will be remembered long after I leave this life. When I die, there will be a final waltz playing in my head, that only I can hear."
The only problem is that Jarre, the Academy Award winner who composed the scores of "Dr. Zhivago", "Lawrence of Arabia" and numerous other films, never uttered those words. The papers and bloggers had been taken in by an Internet hoax.
It was posted on Wikipedia shortly after Jarre's death and was duly picked up by several British newspapers, including the Guardian and the London Independent. If you do a search on Google using the terms "maurice jarre" and "waltz playing", you'll see that it also lives in countless entertainment blogs.
But according to he Irish Times, Shane Fitzgerald, a 22-year-old Dublin student, is the source of the memorable "quote". Fitzgerald, according to the newspaper is studying sociology and economics at University College Dublin and posted the quote on Wikipedia as an experiment as he was doing research on globalizaiton. He wanted to test how dependent journalists are on the Internet as a source of information. It appears some are about as dependent as a junkie on crack.
There was no source cited for Jarre's alleged remarks and the quote was quickly removed by Wikipedia moderators. But Fitzgerald was persistent and put it back a few more times until it was permitted to sit on the site for more than 24 hours. That was enough time for obit writers to copy and paste it over and over.
And violate a fundamental piece of advice to journalists: Don't take Wikipedia articles at face value. The online encyclopedia, written and edited by volunteers, is a useful tip sheet, but not a completely reliable source for journalists because it can be hacked by online vandals. If something appears in Wikipedia, don't run with it without verifying it through other sources.
Fitzgerald said he was shocked by the outcome of his little experiment, telling the Irish Times, "I didn't expect it to go that far. I expected it to be in blogs and sites but on mainstream quality papers?"
Unfortunately, these days, mainstream papers are slashing newsroom staffs as advertising revenues decline. The fact that some would repeat Fitzgerald's hoax without double checking is the inexcusable result of these cutbacks, plus a bit of laziness on the part of some writers.
So, if anybody wants to write my obituary when I die, let me give you an official quote, not made up by somebody else, here and now:
"Blogging was my life, blogging brought me to life and blogging is how I will be remembered long after I leave this life. When I die there will be a final Internet hoax spamming in my head, that only I can read."