Saturday, August 27, 2005



Birdbath (2001)

You know the expression taking a bath? Could the tub get much bigger in Iraq?

Of course -- especially when there's always more sentimental propaganda to catapult. Fear and screened rallies can't seem to shore up BushCo's sagging polls, so let's get out our handkerchiefs. But how many yellow magnets have to be superglued to our trunks and foreheads before a nostalgic glaze in our non-reality-based eyes blinds us to the ongoing blatant manipulation?

Thanks to my friend Jim who pointed me to this rosy scenario gone seedy from Yahoo -- "Hoax Leaves Illinois Student Newspaper Embarrassed":

Kodee Kennings' story was pure gold. For nearly two years, the motherless 8-year-old spoke and wrote movingly of her struggle to deal with her soldier father being shipped off to fight in Iraq, and Southern Illinois University's student newspaper chronicled her thoughts in its pages.

But there was no Kodee Kennings, and the elaborate hoax exposed Friday left The Daily Egyptian embarrassed.

"Certainly for us it's a sad day," said Eric Fidler, Daily Egyptian faculty adviser for the past year. "Some good can come from this, but it doesn't help our reputation. All we can do is be upfront with what happened and what we know."

A 2004 SIU graduate who posed as Kodee's guardian says she and a former Daily Egyptian editor concocted the story to help his career. He denies that and says he was duped, too.

A 10-year-old girl who posed as Kodee in public appearances and a man who pretended to be her father say they were unwitting participants in the scam and believed they were acting in a film.


Kim Treger, owner of a women's shoe and accessories store, said she followed the story from the start but was not surprised to learn it was fake.

"As long as people dig those sentimental stories and have that yellow-ribbon mentality, there are going to be these hoaxes," she said.

The Daily Egyptian printed a retraction and filled in these details:

Over nearly two years, the Daily Egyptian told the story of a precocious little girl whose mother was dead and whose father was fighting in Iraq.

Members of the newspaper staff befriended the girl known as Kodee Kennings and she was given an occasional column in the DE. The column, at times funny and at times heart-rending, talked about her father in the military, her fears about monsters under her bed and her life with her guardian, Colleen Hastings.

None of it was true.

The Daily Egyptian and its readers were taken in by a bizarre, elaborate hoax.

There was no Kodee Kennings. There was no Colleen Hastings. And there was no father named Dan Kennings in Iraq.

The web of lies began to unravel about two weeks ago when the staff of the newspaper was told that Dan Kennings had been killed in battle. Sources at the Department of the Defense and at Fort Campbell, Ky., where Kennings was supposedly a member of the 101st Airborne, said no man by that name has served or died in Iraq.

Reporting by this newspaper and others since then has found that Hastings is actually Jaimie Reynolds of Marion, a 2004 graduate of SIU. And Kodee is actually the daughter of a pastor in Montpelier, Ind. The man portraying Dan Kennings is Patrick Trovillion of Vienna, who says Reynolds paid him for his role.


Calls from a young voice saying she was Kodee Kennings were often placed to the Daily Egyptian and staff members would talk to this person, often for hours. E-mails from family members of Dan and Kodee Kennings were sent to numerous members of the Daily Egyptian staff and the girl was also allowed to sit in on classes by journalism instructors.

In summer 2004, Trovillion, posing as Dan Kennings, visited the Daily Egyptian newsroom, thanking the staff for taking care of his daughter while he was in Iraq. He walked through room, shook hands and hugged staff members. Trovillion said Reynolds paid him "about $100" to appear in the Daily Egyptian that day. Reynolds insisted he was not paid. Both said the two met through her cousin.

"I am absolutely floored by this," Trovillion said. "It really does piss me off."

Pissed now there was no movie, maybe, but nothing catapults the propaganda better than war hero sentimental slop. Here are email and column samples that appeared in the student paper written by lonely (and fake) Kodee -- complete with carefully added misspellings:

"Dear Daddy,
I miss you and I want you to punch Saddam. Don't die, OK dad? When you come home, can you stay home for real? You should find Saddam and run him over with your tank. Then you can come home. Do you wear your helmet when you sleep? I love you and don't die.
Love, Kodee" -- from journalism student Michael Brenner's story about Kodee's separation from her father.

"Michael use to rite sports but traded it in for being the editor. He's the boss of the newsroom. He's kind of like the Vise Presadent. He just comeands and fixs storys. He wins awards." -- from "Kenningsology," Kodee's column in The Daily Egyptian, referring to Brenner.

"You know what? Theres monstars under my bed. They come out when it's dark in there. Some of the monstars make nose and some don't becuse they'r sneky. ...

"My dad use to make the monstirs run away becus he would use his soldier voys. I hate when he yells at me in his soldier voys and so do the monstirs. After he did that they would leve me aloan." -- from "Kenningsology."

"I miss my dad. When he kills all the bad guys Air Force One will bring him home. I'm tired of wateing." -- from "Kenningsology."

Feel used enough for that cleansing bath now? But here's the kicker. As callous as this manipulative scheme is, it was done for short-term personal gain. How much worse are the administration's open lies about the "heroic" exploits of Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman -- lies designed for the sole purpose of providing a rah-rah injection in a crass attempt to inoculate the public against the virus that the war in Iraq has steadily become? Remember how Pat Tillman's parents felt when they learned their son's death was being packaged as a photo op? Tillman's mother said:

The military let him down. The administration let him down. It was a sign of disrespect. The fact that he was the ultimate team player and he watched his own men kill him is absolutely heartbreaking and tragic. The fact that they lied about it afterward is disgusting.

and Tillman's father added:

After it happened, all the people in positions of authority went out of their way to script this. They purposely interfered with the investigation; they covered it up. I think they thought they could control it, and they realized that their recruiting efforts were going to go to hell in a handbasket if the truth about his death got out. They blew up their poster boy.

but, after the Downing Street Documents, we now know the entire war has been scripted from the beginning. "Kodee" conned a student newspaper -- but BushCo scammed the nation. How much longer are we willing to be marks as the carnies shove more magnets and Kleenix into our hands? Apparently, as long as we sit still and swill the agitprop. As Mark Morford observes in "The Big Lie of Jessica Lynch":

Look, there is no war without spin. There is no war without outright lying to the populace, without trying to coerce a wary nation into supporting our unprovoked savagery by way of Hollywood-style set pieces performed specifically to deflect attention from the brutality and the decapitated children and the still-dying U.S. soldiers and the burning bodies by the side of the road.

This is nothing shocking. This is nothing even remotely unusual or uncommon. The fabric of war consists not of gallant battles fought by hardy soldiers for some noble collective good yay yay go team, but of manufactured tales of valiant brotherhood and purebred heroism designed to make the vile pill slightly less bitter.

War is, of course, vicious and primitive and disgustingly violent and not the slightest bit gallant, and America has rarely been more thuggish in its short history than when we annihilated Afghanistan and Iraq lo these past few years, the world's greatest bloated superpower hammering down on two nearly defenseless, piss-poor nations in the name of, well, petrochemical rights and strategic political positioning. It's not a war; it's a gang beating. Uncle Sam wants you.

And, hence, we need the sugar. We desperately need the sweet, teary-eyed images of flags and salutes and stunning "rescues" to make it all go down smoothly, to suppress the collective recoil, the national gag reflex. After all, who wants to see burning babies and crying mothers and hot screaming death on prime time? Show me Old Glory waving in slo-mo! Ahh, that's better.

But it's not better. It's a slap in the face and each bitter pill has an aftertaste that makes us all feel worse -- and used.

When I first showed today's image to my daughter, she had only one comment: Where's the bird?

And I think it's important for me to be thoughtful and sensitive to those who have got something to say...

There it is, honey. See. You just have to look a little deeper...

...look a little beyond the borders of the daily propaganda proscenium...


Ol Cranky said...

Of course, the woman at the center of the scam claims that Mike Brenner "made her do it" and since he was her best friend, who she'd fallen in love with, she complied. He's says it's BS (one would think if the 2 were such close friends prior to this scam, others in the newsroom would know - it's a small college paper, not the Chicago Tribube). It may be that she knew who he was and wanted to get close to him, which made her concoct this story; it may be that she is a big-league Bush supporter (assumption based on working at a local Christian radio station) and initially wanted to ding the anti-war movement; it could be both.

Am I surprised, however, that the students on the paper (or those who followed the story) didn't find the atrociousness of many of the misspellings for a child of Kodee's supposed age (8-10 years of age), especially since they described her as bright and precocious.

SB Gypsy said...

Where's the bird, Daddy??


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