The news ricocheted around the web immediately: CBS News was reporting that Tom Petty was dead.
It kicked off widespread reaction and remembrances on Monday, with star singers like John Mayer, Shania Twain and Jon Bon Jovi all paying tribute to Mr. Petty on Twitter.
It soon emerged, however, that the news was premature.
When CBS reported Mr. Petty’s death on Twitter, preceded by a capitalized banner “JUST IN,” the network attributed the news to the Los Angeles Police Department. In an article published online, there was no mention of the L.A.P.D., merely the phrase “CBS News has confirmed.” (CBS later deleted the tweet.)
Numerous other news outfits, including Entertainment Weekly, Slate and HuffPost, soon posted articles about Mr. Petty’s death, all attributing the news to CBS. Rolling Stone even got a statement from Bob Dylan, who said: “I thought the world of Tom. He was great performer, full of the light, a friend, and I’ll never forget him.”
But about an hour after the CBS report went online, the Los Angeles Police Department said it could not confirm his death, setting off mass confusion on social media over Mr. Petty’s actual condition. Mr. Petty, 66, had been taken to a hospital after going into cardiac arrest at his home in California, TMZ reported. But while TMZ had also reported that the singer was unresponsive and had been taken off life support, it never reported that he was dead.
The Police Department appeared to take the blame, saying on Twitter that “initial information was inadvertently provided to some media sources.”
“The LAPD has no investigative role in this matter,” it said in a second tweet. “We apologize for any inconvenience in this reporting.”
The CBS news division said in a statement: “CBS News reported information obtained officially from the LAPD about Tom Petty. The LAPD later said it was not in a position to confirm information about the singer.” (Independently of the CBS report, Variety also reported that Mr. Petty had died and later updated its article, citing the Police Department statement.)
Late Monday afternoon, the headline on the CBS article had been changed from “Tom Petty, legendary rocker, is dead at 66” to “LAPD clarifies it cannot confirm Tom Petty’s death.”