An electronic gaffe at news outlet Bloomberg mistakenly sent an incomplete obituary for Apple CEO Steve Jobs over the wire on Wednesday afternoon, and a tipster promptly sent the soon-retracted file to gossip blog Gawker.
The lengthy file contains not only a preliminary obituary for the iconic Apple chief, but also a list of suggested contacts for a more extensive story--Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, and early Apple evangelist Guy Kawasaki, among others.
The summary of Jobs' accomplishments, per the obituary, is that he "helped make personal computers as easy to use as telephones, changed the way animated films are made, persuaded consumers to tune into digital music, and refashioned the mobile phone."
It's not out of the ordinary at all that Bloomberg would have this written; all major news outlets have notable persons' obituaries prepared in advance so that only minor changes need be made at the actual time of death. That way, the news can be reported almost immediately and can be updated with further detail.
But a Jobs obituary, however premature, is more chilling than, say, a Bill Gates obituary. The Apple CEO successfully battled pancreatic cancer earlier this decade, and a magazine profile indicated that he had kept it secret for nine months while researching alternative treatments--a questionable move for any chief executive of a publicly traded company, but especially one as crucial to the runnings of the business as Jobs is.
When Jobs appeared onstage at the Worldwide Developers Conference in June 2008, his thin appearance led some bloggers and company critics to speculate that he was ill again, and some of them pushed the bounds of decency in demanding that Apple reveal the state of the executive's health to shareholders.
So given a CEO whose health has been discussed so speculatively in the echo chamber of the blogosphere, and whose company's stock has been shown to be far from immune to the influence of the rumor mill, the appearance--however brief--of a Jobs obituary online must certainly have been disquieting for those who stumbled upon it.
Bloomberg released a retraction later on Wednesday that made only the vaguest of reference to the content of the gaffe. "An incomplete story referencing Apple Inc. was inadvertently published by Bloomberg News at 4:27 p.m. New York time today," the retraction read. "The item was never meant for publication and has been retracted."