A 'Death' Is Noticed

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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

An "in memoriam" ad about a former U.S. ambassador that was placed as an April Fools' Day joke backfired yesterday.

A photo of Edward M. Gabriel, a very much alive international business consultant who was the U.S. ambassador to Morocco from 1997 to 2001, topped an ad on Page B8 in yesterday's Washington Post.

In language reminiscent of the movie "Brokeback Mountain," the $322.20 ad said, "Though I no longer have you as my partner, this day will always be OUR anniversary. . . . I could never quit you."

The ad was taken out by J. Peter Segall, a public relations executive and lawyer. Segall is paying for a retraction in today's Post. Segall said last night that he is a mature man who made an immature mistake.

"As I said in a correction that I hope is published [today], I engaged in a very stupid and ultimately cruel April Fools' joke against a man that has been my best friend for 30 years, and I deeply, deeply regret it," Segall said. (The retraction appears on Page B7.)

Gabriel said he fielded calls all day from friends who thought he had died. One woman told him she spent two hours crying after seeing the ad.

"He's an old friend who plays jokes on me every year, and some are hilarious, but they've been private," Gabriel said. "He's a good friend who went a little too far. He's apologized profusely, and I've accepted it, but not without being a little hurt. I think -- I know -- he had no ill intent."

It's the first time in 20 years that a spoof ad is known to have run in The Post, said a company spokesman. There is no formal process for checking the truth of the ads, he said. Unlike death notices or news obituaries, which are fact-checked, families often take out "in memoriam" ads to remember a deceased relative months or years after the person's death.

-- Patricia Sullivan

© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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