Media Blog

Should We Feel Sorry For This Guy?

Michelle Malkin summed it up as unbelievable. But as more details come out, I’m thinking the words sad and sick also come to mind.
Sad because the college student who did the most to promote the story of Kodee Kennings, a little girl who lost her dad in Iraq, is now accused of helping to perpetrate a huge journalistic fraud. Turns out the little girl never existed. It was all an antiwar hoax. Yet the Daily Egyptian, the student paper at Southern Illinois University – Carbondale, ran dozens of letters and columns from the “little girl” — some of them expressing anger at President Bush for taking her father. All the letters and columns, though allegedly written by Kodee, were actually written by a woman claiming to be the girl’s aunt. Once the woman was exposed as a fraud, she said she concocted the story with Daily Egyptian reporter Michael Brenner. Brenner says he is being falsely accused, and wonders “Who’s going to want to hire me after this?
If the guy really is innocent, I feel bad for him. I mean, this was a sick fraud — the woman even impersonated the little girl in numerous phone conversations with reporters at the paper. Brenner told The Southern Illinoisian, “I thought I had taught Kodee to do algebra over the phone. Now I know why she picked it up so fast.”
While they strive to achieve high standards of professionalism, college dailies are more susceptible to the same pitfalls that regular newspapers face because they are almost entirely student-run. I remember when I was opinion editor of my student newspaper, I had to fire a columnist when a reader reported that he had plagiarized a column. I felt like such a fool for letting something like that get by me. But I had a great editorial advisor who taught me several important lessons from that incident. You live, you learn, you Google.
This is obviously a fraud on a much larger scale, but these are students, and students make mistakes. College newspapers are tools for teaching, and this is certainly a teachable moment. Nevertheless, the investigation into this fraud is ongoing, and if it turns out that this reporter was an accomplice to this sick fraud, I have no sympathy for him. The answer to his question should and will be “No one.”

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