An Honest Mistake
Given that there are already incorrect reports spreading on how the misinformation about Pat Burns' death spread this morning, here's exactly how it happened.
Star colleague Kevin McGran and I were standing outside the Leaf dressing room at the Mastercard Centre For Excellence when Cliff Fletcher walked out. He came over to say hello, shook hands, and then told us that Burns had passed away. He was obviously distraught, as he and Pat had been friends ever since he hired him to coach the Leafs.
Fletcher and I have had our ups and downs over the years, but he is still a senior executive with the Leafs and one of the most respected people in the game. It wasn't like someone whispered a rumour. It wasn't an off-the-cuff or off-the-record comment. He believed he was passing on sad news that the hockey world would want to know about. He didn't say what the source was of the information.
It's been suggested that Fletcher was approached by The Star and asked to comment on the news of Burns' death. That's not true. He told us the news.
Within seconds, a larger media group descended, and Fletcher agreed to comment at length about what he believed was the death of his friend. I stepped away and proceeded to report Fletcher's news on my Twitter account. This was no rush to "break" news, as some have tut-tutted. Fletcher had told a large group, which meant there was no news to "break." He wasn't a "source," per se that required corroboration; he was a public figure making a statement at a hastily called press gathering. Within moments, I had a call from a Montreal television station asking my source on the news. I cited Fletcher's comments.
As soon as it became clear the news was incorrect, I deleted the information from my Twitter account because I didn't want it to spread more by my doing. Clearly, however, there was nothing mischievous or malicious intended by Fletcher. Unfortunately, he soon after felt it necessary to release a statement apologizing for erroneously telling reporters that Burns had died.
I'm sure he feels terrible, but he shouldn't. He believed he was mourning a friend, and sharing sad news with people that know Burns well in a town where to many he is still beloved.
In the end, it was a great thing to be wrong about, as Pat is still with us. Probably having as big a belly laugh as he can manage.