On Monday, the print edition of The Star ran an obituary of George McGovern, written by David E. Rosenbaum of The New York Times. It carried an unusual note at the end:
(The author of this obituary, David E. Rosenbaum, a Washington correspondent for The New York Times, died in 2006. William McDonald of the Times contributed reporting to this article, as did Kristi Eaton and Walter R. Mears of The Associated Press.)
"After reading Sen. McGovern's obit, I was surprised by the tag line at the end of the story," wrote one reader. "While I understand obits are often done in advance, this is an interesting choice under the circumstances and possibly deserves further explanation. However I appreciate the full disclosure, though quite unusual."
There's no way to address this topic without sounding a little macabre. The fact is that journalists do advance preparation for the deaths of many public figures, especially those who are in ill health or advanced age. McGovern was 90, which is well past the average life expectancy, though he had remained active in publishing in recent years.
I'm with this emailer about the transparency of the note. It was the right thing to do, but it's true I found it unusual as well.
Another reader had an observation about the headline on the story in print:
"I was truly amazed that 'Losing '72 candidate McGovern dies at 90' was the headline to announce the death of a man who was known for his work for peace and for the poor," she wrote. "What wonderful headlines that would have made as well as reminding all of us how important it is to work for peace. Losing an election is a sad way to present such a good human being."
And though I'm usually loath to pile too much on print headlines, which are a lot tougher to write than I think most people realize, that's a fair point worth considering.