Update, Tuesday, 5:07 p.m. Eastern: Hugo Chavez is dead. Click here for more updates.
Original post: On Wednesday night, one of the more obscure outposts of the CNN empire reported that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez had died, citing a pretty sketchy Panamanian source named Guillermo Cochez. CNN Chile reported quite bluntly: "Hugo Chávez is dead." The news itself, if true, is not unbelievable. The once bombastic politician has been struggling with cancer for sometime now and has largely been out of the public eye for months. Chávez couldn't even make it to his own inauguration. Less than a week ago the Venezuelan government broke the bad news that Chávez was not improving. The 58-year-old has been having breathing problems after returning from Cuba, where he's been receiving medial treatment there, for the third time. Chavez is really sick, and everybody knows it.
But Guillermo Cochez is also arguably a conspiracy theorist. Earlier on Wednesday, Cochez — and only Chochez — reported that Chávez had been brain dead since December 30. Cochez said that Chávez was being kept on life support and later, citing sources within the Venezuelan government, added that his daughters had finally decided to pull the plug. Assuming the best for President Chávez's health, it sort of sounds like Cochez is just trolling the Venezuelans. "I challenge the Venezuelan government to prove me wrong, and to present President Chávez so that it's known whether what I say is the truth or a lie," Cochez told CNN Chile. (Forgive the choppy Spanish translation; it's been a while since college.) So do we believe the guy who's daring the Venezuelan government to prove him wrong?
This photo apparently showing Chávez reading a newspaper from February 14 would suggest otherwise. There's the Bolivarian leader lying in bed smiling with his two daughters at his side. Of course, it's not that hard to Photoshop a new newspaper onto an old photo of Chávez, and the Venezuelan government is not entirely unexperienced with propaganda. But again, that leads us into conspiracy theory territory. Furthermore, this is hardly the first time a rumor about Chávez's death has made its way around the web.
For now, the safest thing to assume is that Chávez is just really sick. It is, of course, possible that he's passed away, and the government is keeping it a secret, as Cochez suggests. It's also possible that Cochez is full of it. We'll take it as a serious clue that — as of this writing — none of the other CNN outlets around the world had picked up the story. Like this blogger, they're probably waiting for a second source to confirm the rumor.
Update 9:12 p.m.: Quartz's Gideon Lichfield provides a few more reasons not to trust Cochez. It's worth a read.
Update 10:40 p.m.: Indeed, not even the company that reported the news can stand behind it. CNN's international PR team tweets, "CNN cannot confirm reports of Hugo Chavez's death."