Sunday, January 4, 2009

Detective's Fake Column Scams Sun News Editors

The story on DeSoto Sun's local page 3 this morning announces a scam "is being perpetuated nationwide." The story, by-lined Ken Kleinlein (neither staff writer nor regular columnist) comes to readers in the form of a "letter" that claims to be from a victim. Kleinlein claims to be a detective. Too bad he didn't do a little Internet investigation that would have taken him directly to

The letter has all the hallmarks of fake news: first-names only, city and date unreported, credible source (a police report, maybe?) omitted, all presented by a naif. A real newspaper editor would have spotted the holes in this story on first reading.

"Ken Kleinlein," if that's his real name, posted the identical column on a local blog last month ("Red County: Grassroots Politics from the Center Right") with "thanks" to a NYPD officer for "contributing" to his report. Evidently, the blog wasn't enough glory, so Kleinlein sought out the "mainstream media" to get his "story" and picture in the public eye. Here's a more credible version -- one with less writer's ego, front and center.

According to Snopes, the baloney-detection site, the incident did happen -- in Sydney, Australia. Over a three-day period last October, a rip-off artist delivered gift baskets to homes and requested a $3.50-delivery fee, payable via credit card swiped in a portable electronic-funds-transfer gizmo; later in the day, he used the EFT information to clean out bank accounts. The con man was arrested and charged "with ten counts of fraud," New South Wales Police said in press release.

Kleinlein's "story" appears word-for-word on more than a dozen Internet sites -- strongly suggesting he and his NYPD buddy are unlikely to be the original writers. That alone makes the "detective" guilty of presenting the words and work of others as his own (or his friend's), and not properly crediting the source. His eighth-grade Language Arts teacher taught him the scam is called plagiarism.

Local editors have been duped -- and not by someone terribly clever -- because they failed to require this columnist-sprung-from-the-woodwork to provide the basics of any news story: who, what, when, where along with an independent source for verification.

Readers have been scammed because they have been fed an urban legend in the making instead of real news. Sure, warn readers of of a clever scam, but don't lie and exaggerate ("being perpetuated nation wide" and "especially prevelant around the holidays"). Get a real reporter to interview "Detective Ken Kleinlein," and then verify, verify, verify.

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