We have long dealt with the plague of fake news, a particular problem on the blogosphere where stories are picked up and replicated. Sometimes however questionable stories arise from allegedly false claims rather than false reporters. The Knoxville News Sentinel has suggested that it may have been hoodwinked in a bizarre and disturbing account by a professional “Santa” who recounted how he granted a dying boys heart-wrenching final wish: to die in the arms of Santa. Eric Schmitt-Matzen gave his emotional account of how the boy died in his arms as the family looked on in a hospital. The problem is that reporters have not been able to verify that the boy existed and Schmitt-Matzen has said that he is withholding the family name out of a concern for their privacy. The New Sentinel posted a warning that it could no longer stand by the story.
I watched as CNN got Schmitt-Matzen to recount the story this week (though it was bizarre when at the most emotional climax of the story the CNN anchor had to say that they were out of time).
He called the boy his “Number One Elf” in various emails and explained how he cried all the way home after the incident. He recounted telling the boy that “When you get to those pearly gates, you tell ’em you’re Santa’s No. 1 elf, and I know they’ll let you in,” Schmitt-Matzen recalled telling the boy.
Now the original reporter and News Sentinel editor Jack McElroy have issued a warning that “The News Sentinel cannot establish that Schmitt-Matzen’s account is inaccurate, but more importantly, ongoing reporting cannot establish that it is accurate. Therefore, because the story does not meet the newspaper’s standards of verification, we are no longer standing by the veracity of Schmitt-Matzen’s account.”
CNN also reports that it called all the major hospitals in the Knoxville area that treat children and none could confirm his account. Schmitt-Matzen told the Washington Post he stands by his account but would not name the nurse or boy.
It is curious that the family has not stepped forward to clear the name and reputation of Schmitt-Matzen but perhaps someone will step forward. It is hard to image a worse story is the account turns out to be a hoax. If so, Schmitt-Matzen will join Dave Grisham on the Christmas Super-Naughty list.