A Tennessee Santa Claus may not have been truthful when he claimed he comforted a terminally boy who died in his arms.
Eric Schmitt-Matzen, 61, who often plays Santa Claus around the holidays, told a tale that was heart-warming and perfectly suited for today’s junk food news media.
Schmitt-Matzen said a family reached out to him to request a visit for their terminally ill 5-year-old son who wished to meet Santa before he died.
Schmitt-Matzen told a reporter at The Knoxville News Sentinel that he rushed over to the hospital just in time to hold the boy in his arms as the child drew his last breath.
Naturally, the newspaper ran the story without bothering to verify any of the facts.
The Associated Press supplied the story to thousands of prescribers including the NY Daily News.
Soon Schmitt-Matzen was an overnight sensation, making the rounds of local and national talk shows and soaking up the attention from the fawning media.
At some point during the exercise in hero worship, someone paused to ask real questions — such as the boy’s name.
Schmitt-Matzen told reporters he promised the family he wouldn’t reveal the name.
Realizing they’d been duped, The News Sentinel retracted the story.
An editor’s note said:
“Although facts about (Schmitt-Matzen’s) background have checked out, his story of bringing a gift to a dying child remains unverified.”
The note added that, “The News Sentinel cannot establish that Schmitt-Matzen’s account is inaccurate, but more importantly, ongoing reporting cannot establish that it is accurate.”