August 30, 2005

Lies OK If It Is "For The Children."

Not many things in life really get my dander up. Oh, sure, there are a few things, radical liberals, radical righties, Pat Robertson, Sy Hersch, a few others, but in general, I'm fairly well laid back most of the time. Until the other day that is. I came across one of the most grotesque, cruel, and yes, heartless hoaxes that I've ever seen.

Kodee Kennings has, for the last two years told her story in the pages of the Daily Egyptian at Southern Illinois University - Carbondale. An exerpt from one of the first articles:

Dan Kennings was trying to calm his daughter down, but he had trouble making her feel at ease because he was crying himself.

Kennings was about to leave Kodee, his only daughter, to fight the war in Iraq. He was trying to board a plane at Fort Campbell, Ky., which would eventually take him to the Kuwaiti desert.

But his daughter had other ideas.

In an attempt to delay his departure, Kodee swiped his helmet and refused to let go, saying he could not leave without his helmet.

Still in tears, Kennings took his helmet back from his 8-year-old daughter, but he still could not convince her he had to go. She refused to let go of his arms, and pleaded with her father.

That doubtlessly paints a pretty sad picture of a Soldier leaving his child with a guardian (the mother having died some time ago), tears, pathos, pulling at your heart strings.

For two years, readers who naturally fell in love with this child and her father, who followed his experiences in the war, the hurt and heartbreak when he came home on leave, and had to leave again. The trials and tribulations, for all to see. TV interviews, the child, the guardian, the father, all there, all human, all heartbreak. Then, word came back from Iraq that Sgt. Kennings, Kodee's father had been killed in combat.

And now the fraud becomes apparant. The Chicago Tribune wanted to cover the story, it called to find out when and where funeral services were to be held, to let Kodee Kennings know that she was well loved, not only by her dad and her guardian, but figuratively by the readers of the Daily Egyptian.

When the Trib called, if found out that there was no Sgt. Kennnings killed in Iraq, there was no Sgt. Kennings at all. From The Trib:

The Tribune went to southern Illinois to learn about the bond between Kodee and Dan Kennings, and the life Kodee would face without her hero.

Instead, eight days of reporting revealed elaborate fabrications and intricate lies. There is no soldier named Dan Kennings. The charming girl people came to know as Kodee Kennings is someone else entirely, a child from an out-of-state family led to believe that she was playing a part in a documentary about a soldier.

Using role players who say they were duped--including an employee of a local Christian radio station--the woman at the center of the hoax spun a remarkable wartime tale so compelling it grabbed the hearts of young journalists, university faculty members and readers, leaving them blind to the possibility it could be a ruse.

The reasons behind the lies remain unclear. There appears to have been no monetary motive, but the scope of the deception is staggering.

To say the least!

The story continues:

On Saturday morning, cars began pulling into the gravel parking lot of a one-story American Legion hall in Orient, Ill., about 30 miles northeast of Carbondale, for a memorial service. Hastings and Kodee got out of a red Pontiac Grand Am, the little girl wearing an Army uniform shirt that hung down to her knees.

People inside the memorial service said both Hastings and Kodee were in tears. A video showed Kennings in his fatigues speaking with a group of children at a church, and there was a scrapbook filled with pictures of Kennings straddling a tank cannon or huddling with other soldiers.

Tribune reporters continued asking questions, and some students and a faculty member were growing increasingly hostile because of suggestions that Kennings did not exist. By Tuesday night, however, Brenner was pacing nervously outside a Dairy Queen in Carterville, Ill., talking to Hastings on his cell phone. He handed the phone to a Tribune reporter, and Hastings said she would come to the Dairy Queen and listen to questions.

Brenner, 25, said he was still convinced of Kennings' existence and defended Hastings for trying to protect a little girl.

Hastings pulled into the parking lot in the same red car she'd driven to the memorial service. She was told that the military denied Kennings' existence and that the name Colleen Hastings appeared in no public-records databases in Illinois. She was asked for a driver's license and for a death certificate for Kennings. With each question, Hastings shook her head no.

After Brenner spoke to her for a minute alone, she drove off.

State records show that the car is registered to a woman living in Marion, and on Wednesday a reporter was there looking for the woman's granddaughter, Jaimie Reynolds.

When she came out of the house, Reynolds was the same woman who had been at the Dairy Queen as Colleen Hastings.

Sitting on the back porch and wearing a long-sleeved Southern Illinois University shirt, her face flush from crying, Reynolds admitted that she had pretended to be Hastings. She said that Kennings was an invention, and later explained that those who met him actually had met Trovillion, the acquaintance who believed he was acting in a film.

She said, and the Tribune confirmed, that she had been a radio and television production student at the university. She graduated in 2004, putting her there alongside the very people she was deceiving.

Reynolds acknowledged the little girl is the daughter of friends and said she persuaded the parents to let her bring the child to Carbondale regularly by saying she was filming a documentary about a soldier killed in Iraq.

"We told her it was for a movie," Reynolds said.

Reynolds alleged that the scheme was Brenner's idea. She also said she fell in love with Brenner, making it that much harder for her to stop the lie.

The staff at the Chicago Tribune did a great job and we are in their debt. But what of the perpetrators, why go to such lengths? To express anti-war sentiment? To garner another "Pulitzer?" Why?

I'm ticked, and I hope you are too.

Posted by GM Roper at August 30, 2005 06:23 PM | TrackBack

This reveals a classic difference between the left and the right. The left sees nothing wrong with such distortion because they feel that it is for something good (to them). On the other hand (and I'm convinced of this), this is something that the right would never, never, never do. It just isn't within the nature of people on the right to concoct such a tale. (I know you'll disagree, Jim, but I'm certain that this is a classic liberal tactic.)

Posted by Woody at August 30, 2005 09:03 PM

Vehemently, Woody.

Posted by jim hitchcock at August 30, 2005 09:22 PM

Well, for one thing, Jim, the right would be crucified in the media if it tried this. There's no outrage here because of the "noble" purpose.

Posted by Woody at August 30, 2005 09:59 PM

This story is just another sad episode in that long parade of left wing fakes, phonies, freaks and fools.

Whether it's fake National Guard documents intended to sway a presidential election, fake newspaper headlines and facts in a Michael Moore movie or now this, the story is the same.

The left has donned a mantle of "absolute moral authority" as columnists annointed Cindy Sheehan.

When you presume to be so absolutely right about anything, anything you do or say is justified. But then absolute moral authority corrupts absolutely.

Posted by Mike on Hilton Head Island at August 30, 2005 10:05 PM

Well, If happen to find any incident of press fabrication outrageous, But I also find it a bit outrageous that you automatically label this as something put out by `anti war activists'. That is as baseless as would be calling the Pat Tillman coverup a right wing conspiracy.

Sorry, the idea that the `left' automatically gets a pass on this kind of stuff is just plain ludicrous. Anybody remember Stephen Glass, for one small example?

Did it EVER occur to you that this was just a case of a stupid girl concocting a story to somehow compensate for some rather serious problems, rather than the motives you so gleefully buy into? Jeez.

Posted by jim hitchcock at August 30, 2005 10:29 PM

I upset at this deception as I'm sure we all are, especially in light of the topic of the deception. However, I'm baffled as to why the actions of an evidently deranged imposter should become the trigger for another political food fight. Why do we have to strain to see everything through blue and red glasses? As Sigmund Freud is alleged (perhaps apocryphally) to have once said, "Sometime a cigar is just a cigar!"

Posted by civil truth at August 30, 2005 11:23 PM

CT, Freud said that when a student asked him why he didn't list cigar's in his exhaustive list of phallic symbols. On the other hand, Freud was reported to have smoked and or chewed some 40 cigars a day. He died of cancer of the jaw, precipitated by his use of cigars. Sometimes, denial isn't a river in Egypt. :-)

Posted by GM Roper at August 31, 2005 07:06 AM

Jim writes: "Sorry, the idea that the `left' automatically gets a pass on this kind of stuff is just plain ludicrous. Anybody remember Stephen Glass, for one small example?"

Jim, I think you have your liberal blinders on. Glass wasn't outed because he was pulling an anti war hoax, he was outed because he defrauded the whole damn establishment with a whole series of fabulist writings.

The point of this POST was that the Daily Egyptian was taken in by a staff writer with an agenda. If you doubt that there was an agenda, read some of the links and counter links in the story. Here is one of the links that to my mind proves the agenda.$2342

Keep reading. Do a google search. This was an anti-war hoax plain and simple, and Woody is right, if the Right had pulled this, the Outrage would have been enough to dim the sun.

Posted by GM Roper at August 31, 2005 07:26 AM

Wow...those letters are so obviously written by an adult perpetrating what they think an 8 year old would write like. Children do not (usually) misspell the same word differently in the same sentence.

It is obvious these letters were written by someone with an anti-Bush/ anti-war agenda, who chose to use a child (the "actress" in her drama) to play at the heart strings of the people.


Posted by Scott at August 31, 2005 12:06 PM

I never referred to the Glass case as an antiwar hoax; I meant only that the New Republic was/is a leftist magazine. I do understand your point, but don't really agree with your conclusions (the right would have been crucified, the left gets a free pass). Certainly doesn't seem to be the case in this example, does it? So, I just have to assume it's because you feel this story isn't being disseminted widely enough.

You really should have posted the link in the first post, as it proves (to me) your contention in this case. How obvious. The crude attempts to mimic a child's misspelling are just woefully inept.

Off with her head!

Posted by jim hitchcock at August 31, 2005 12:25 PM


Posted by jim hitchcock at August 31, 2005 01:10 PM

GM (and others), I still dissent. I've looked over the various links provided by the Daily Egyptian, the Chicago Tribune story, and other links.

I just don't see a consistent anti-war agenda. Rather, I see dramatic fiction, and like any good fiction it needs intense and conflicting emotions. And if we take off our political lenses and look at the whole, rather than cherry-picking parts, then I think we would see that the spirit of fiction is what dominates.

Just as you see sections that one could perceive as anti-war, other parts someone else could view as trying to elicit support for our troops to finish the job. Surely all U.S. citizens want our troops home, the bitter differences arise over when and under what circumstances.

The Chicago Tribune article of 8/26/05 states, "In southern Illinois, the tale began in 2003, when student reporter Michael Brenner said he was handed a letter from a little girl saying she saw an anti-war protest on the Southern Illinois University campus and that it bothered her because her dad was a soldier."

In the first DE article titled American refugee, in addition to the tearful parting you included in your original post, the story later includes the following lines:

An avid Saluki fan, Kodee loves SIU, but she hates seeing "no war" scrawled on the walls of Faner and becomes confused when reading slogans such as "Bush is the Devil." To Kodee, Bush is her father's boss and she does not understand why people think he is evil. She has also has a very difficult time understanding the war protesters and has begun to fear them the way most kids fear the boogeyman or monsters....

Kodee was devastated, even when her father told her the reason he had to stay. "He said he had to stay and help rebuild the country cause it was all destroyed," Kodee said. "He said he had to build hospitals because otherwise people would die. There is no medicine or doctors."

I've seen anti-war propaganda, and this is not the same. The deck is not being stacked against the war. This is dramatic tension designed to emotionally hook the reader, as any fiction writer will do.

Like any fiction story, there are ebbs and flows, clashes of emotions. Although the Letter to my mom, dad and Bush you linked to in your last comment certainly reflects the high-tide of anti-war feeling, especially her letter to Bush, there is no radicalization, no going to peace vigils in later stories, just more childhood life. Indeed, there was a subsequent letter to the editor 'Freedom don't come free' from a probably fictional Shayla Goldsmith expressing deep appreciation for how the Daily Egyptian was supporting our troops, including the following:

During our phone calls he told me about reading your paper and how he needed to feel normal and just reading something from home that was upbeat was a great help to his morale as well as helping him feel connected to home. I thank you from the depth of my heart. Your decision to support the boys touches my heart, and makes me so proud.


After writing the above paragraphs, I then googled "Shayla Goldsmith," which led me to the following posting in Big Muddy IMC, an apparently left-leaning blog, which includes the following statement:

However, I want to make it clear that the story of Kodee was far more insidious than a tear-inducing human interest story. Rather, Kodee served as a fictional rhetorical brickbat with which to beat back folks opposed to the war. The fact that it advanced a budding journalist’s career, and brought attention to a lonely woman are almost secondary to this story....

After quoting a section from American refugee similar to what I wrote above, the poster continues...

Kodee’s fears represent a fantasy of the political right; that anti-war protesters are literally monsters that strike fear in the hearts of the children of American soldiers. The heavy-handed imagery here is almost a caricature of right wing rhetoric about war protesters. At several other points in the Kodee saga, Kodee and her father Dan Kennings are used to leverage several other repeated tropes against war protesters.

One example is particularly troublesome. In a letter that appears to be a fabrication (well, it must be, since Dan Kennings doesn’t exist) a woman (Shayla Goldsmith) who is supposed to be the wife of one of “his men” makes a very recognizable argument...

followed by a quote from 'Freedom don't come free', and then the poster continues...

In other words, the coverage of Kennings and his daughter serve as support for the troops, and the DE serves as a bulwark against the negativity of the media by providing something “upbeat.” ... I think that it is important to note how Kodee serves as a vehicle for these arguments against war protests, since right wing blogs are already spreading the spin that Kodee was fabricated by liberals to advance an anti-war slant. This is based on one of the Kenningsology column where she expresses her anger toward President Bush and wants to know why he wants to make people cry.

Thus, at least one blogger has the opposite interpretation of Kodee, viewing it as a right-wing hoax. This dispute is evidence to me that political agenda in this case may be more in the eye of the beholder than in the story. Indeed, Big Muddy follows up with this insightful comment.

But what’s really interesting about Kodee to me is how flexible of a symbol she is, standing in as evidence for the claims of people on all sides of the debate, a floating signifier of the grief felt by military families.

So perhaps we all need to refocus our digust back to the perpetrator of this hoax who exploited the anguish of this country over the war and our troops for an unjustifiable end. If futher events demonstrate that there was a political agenda behind this, I will gladly stand corrected.

Sorry for the long comment.

Posted by civil truth at August 31, 2005 01:26 PM

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