Associated Press fooled by Christopher Walken impersonator on ESPN 980

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Marc Sterne, who goes by Nigel on ESPN 980's The Tony Kornheiser Show, impersonates Christopher Walken on the program every week. When he did so this morning, and made up details about Natalie Wood's drowning death in 1981 (at which the real Walken was present), an Associated Press reporter believed what he was hearing and the wire service published a report about it.

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The story, under the byline of Anthony McCartney, reads:

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Actor Christopher Walken says he went to bed on a yacht he was on with actress Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner 30 years ago and awoke to learn that she had died.

Walken tells Washington, D.C. sports talk radio station ESPN980 on Friday that there was drinking and shouting on the boat and that then "there was tragedy."

His comments come as Los Angeles authorities reopened the case of Wood's 1981 death in the waters off Southern California.

A boat captain said Friday that he lied to authorities about the case and that Wood's husband, Wagner, was to blame for her death.

Police said Wagner was not a suspect and that they had new information that warranted a reopening the case.
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Associated Press writer Joe White in Bethesda, Md.

"We do this bit every week," 980's director of programming, Chuck Sapienza, told me. "It's one of my producers, Marc Sterne, and he does this every week, picking fantasy football games.” Except that this week, due to the reopening of the Wood case, Sterne took some extra license with his impersonation.

When I spoke with Associated Press weekend editor Tom Strong at 3:40 p.m., he was unaware that the AP had been fooled. He promised to call me back. During the writing of this article, the AP published the following correction:

The Associated Press has withdrawn the 12th and 13th Ld-Writethrus of its story about the Natalie Wood investigation. The story quoted Christopher Walken telling Washington, D.C. sports talk radio station ESPN980 about his recollections from the night that Wood died. The station now says that it was a hoax involving a station employee who was impersonating Walken.

(The details had been incorporated into a longer AP story about Wood, too. When I called the AP again, a woman told me that Strong was on the other line, and that she couldn't comment on which AP reporter — McCartney or White — had believed the Walken impersonation to be real.)

"That's probably a good idea," Sterne said, when I informed him of the correction. "Honestly we're not trying to fool anybody with it. It's just kind of mind-numbing to me. Obviously it's a very high compliment that somebody thought it was real."

Sterne, who also did the impression on another 980 show this morning, The Sports Fix, says he's "sure a lot of people will be angry with me," but that he meant no disrespect to Walken or Wagner, and "would never want to do anything to anger them or diminish the legend of Natalie Wood."

"I didn't mean any offense by it, and I'm very sorry if anyone was offended," he said. "I'm also very embarrassed for AP, that they thought it was the real thing."

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