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An Italian Journalist Just Trolled Everyone into Thinking Cormac McCarthy Was Dead

Cormac McCarthy is still alive and well, everybody.
Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage

Legendary American author Cormac McCarthy died this morning of a stroke at 81 years old—at least, that's what I thought when I hit the Retweet button on a Tweet from a legit-seeming account for McCarthy's publisher, Alfred A. Knopf. "Holy shit, is this true," I wrote in an addendum to my now-deleted Retweet, oblivious to the fact that in the internet age, if you have to ask if something's a hoax, it probably is.


I wasn't the only one who got fooled: in the race to get on top of the news, national newspaper USA Today hopped to report the non-story, before issuing multiple corrections.

Obviously, there's lessons to take away here regarding the hazards of speed and accuracy in news reporting in the digital age—lessons that, let's be real, none of us will probably ever truly internalize as best practices. Life's too short, the news cycle's too fast, and in this industry, being behind is increasingly seen as a much greater crime than being wrong.

Shortly after USA Today's avalanche of corrective Tweets, the offending fake-Knopf account in question not only 'fessed up to the ruse, but unveiled the man behind it, too: "This account is hoax created by Italian journalist Tommasso Debenedetti. McCarthy is alive and well." This was not his first hoax of the week perpetrated from this account, which just two days earlier had existed as a fake Twitter account for another legendary author: Don DeLillo.

A 2013 Tumblr post from literary editor Sarah Weinman points out that not only was this far from Tomasso Debenedetti's first hoax involving legendary writers—it's not even the first time he's pretended to be Don DeLillo. According to Weinman, Debenedetti's also previously created fake Twitter accounts for Thomas Pynchon (imagine!), Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Alice Munro; in 2010, The New Yorker's Judith Thurman reported that he had fabricated an entire interview with Philip Roth, along with other famous figures.

Debenedetti has been trolling the news media for six-years-plus, and in a 2014 interview with Business Insider, he admitted he had no interest in slowing his troll-roll. "News agencies such as AP, Reuters, and big newspapers are able to verify news," he said. "But little newspapers, blogs, and radio stations are not able to verify, and so regularly accept rumours and fake news. The problem is the situation of social media, and generally of the web. I'm sure I'll continue."

Whether Debenedetti is maliciously exploiting the public's constant and growing thirst for up-to-the-minute information or ingeniously exposing flaws in social media's oft-touted news-gathering abilities is for you to decide. We should all probably be a little less trigger happy with the retweets, though.

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