Countdown to the Memory Hole

This story made a big splash in the conservative blog clique yesterday and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch covered it, but we can begin the countdown until it’s forgotten: Girl’s story of dad was a hoax, paper says:

For two years, Carbondale residents have been riveted by the writing of a little girl imploring her father in Iraq: “Don’t die, OK?”

Only now are they learning there was never any danger of that.

The Daily Egyptian, Southern Illinois University’s student-run newspaper, today will admit to its readers that the saga – of a little girl’s published letters to her father serving in Iraq – was apparently an elaborate hoax perpetrated by a woman who claimed to be the girl’s aunt.

In fact, the newspaper will report today, the man identified as the girl’s father was never in Iraq, and it was the woman who apparently wrote the letters and regular columns that were published under the little girl’s name – and even impersonated the girl in telephone interviews.

For starters, let’s be clear this is not a Carbondale newspaper, it’s a University newspaper. This doesn’t excuse the way it occurred, but it does explain. They weren’t professionals. They were professionals in training. As sad as that prospect is, we’re not talking reporters nor editors with decades of experience. One would expect most editors on the paper had a couple of years of experience at the most.

It also might explain how the students’ ideology could have played a greater role in their ignorance if possible: students don’t even have to temper their drive to improve the world by remaking it in their image. In real papers, editors, publishers, and the positions to whom student reporters often aspire have to at least genuflect to the concepts of circulation and shareholders, but school papers exist at the indulgence of the schools and don’t have to even consider remaining palatable to customers.

Here’s a sample of the writing that “captivated” Carbondale, or at least the university students, or perhaps no one really but the paper itself:

“I’m rily mad at you and you make my hart hurt,”‘ she purportedly wrote in one published letter to the president. “I don’t think your doing a very good job. You keep sending soldiers to Iraq and it’s not fair. Do you have a soldier of your own in Irak?”

Still, I’m probably not the only one to notice that scandals involving more populist/liberal newspapers involve making it all up, a la Michael Barnicle, Jayson Blair, the rest of the staff of the New York Times, Stephen Glass, and so on. Conservative commentators tend to get smeared not for making crap up, but for selling their writing talent for money (numerous lesser lights whose names I forget), for payola (that Armstrong guy I never heard of) or for unrelated issues (Rush Limbaugh).

So there you have my thoughts on the matter. Here are some others:

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