- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Smart-aleck corpse

We'd written that a very much alive retired Army Col. Donald R. Condrill was "declared dead" by the Pentagon and had his bank account raided of $9,300 in retirement pay.

When the colonel notified the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) of its error, he was told to appear at a military base or police station and have them verify "that you are alive and well."

Col. Condrill, we now learn, isn't the only person in limbo.

"I, too, have had a similar-type incident to the tune of over $15,000," says retired Army Col. William A. Ward of Niceville, Fla., whose insurance company informed the Veterans Affairs Department that Col. Ward's wife had died on June 20. A copy of her death certificate was attached.

"The VA was notified because I was drawing VA disability compensation and the loss of my dependent wife would affect the amount of my monthly compensation," he explains. "VA misread the letter and notified the DFAS, the Social Security Administration, and of course the VA that I had died on 20 June 2002, instead of my wife, Sharon A. Ward.

"The story gets worse as time passes," he adds, "just like a snowball rolling down hill."

On Sept. 4, all three agencies "raided" Col. Ward's bank checking account of $15,535.29. "Needless to say, it has put me in financial difficulties. I have had to borrow from other sources to cover outstanding automatic withdrawals and checks," he says.

The colonel immediately contacted the VA, and was connected to a specialist in the debt-management division.

"What's this about?" Col. Ward asked.

"Well, you're dead," came the reply.

"If I'm dead, then how am I talking to you?" he asked.

"Then you're going to have to write a letter," said the specialist.

"If I'm dead, then how am I going to write a letter?" he wondered.

"Don't get smart with me," the specialist shot back.

Senatorial stress

It's more stressful to be a senator than a congressman.

We've obtained the results of the fifth annual congressional men's health screenings on Capitol Hill. The senators and congressmen who rolled up their sleeves included Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican; and Reps. Virgil H. Goode Jr., Virginia Republican; Cliff Stearns, Florida Republican; and Benjamin A. Gilman, New York Republican.

Approximately 13 percent of participants in the cardiovascular risk assessment were found to have elevated blood pressure. Of those, 31 percent hailed from the Senate, 14 percent from the House.

As for body-mass index, a whopping 72 percent on the Senate side are overweight, compared with 63 percent in the House (more than 60 percent of Americans age 20 and older are too fat, says Uncle Sam).

Faking the news

Slow news day? Sources not returning your calls? Why not just make it up?

That's apparently what Associated Press reporter Christopher Newton did. Better make that "former Associated Press reporter."

The AP fired Mr. Newton yesterday after two "experts" he quoted in a Sept. 8 story about declining crime rates turned out to be fictitious.

"Chris Newton maintains these experts are real and accurately quoted, but our editors have been unable to verify that they even exist," said AP spokeswoman Kelly Smith Tunney.

Following the trail blazed by Washington Post reporter Janet Cooke (who won a Pulitzer Prize by making up a story about an 8-year-old junkie) and Stephen Glass of the New Republic (whose bogus reporting soon will be the subject of a movie, "Shattered Glass"), Mr. Newton apparently went so far as to create a fictitious think tank, the "Institute for Crime and Punishment" in Chicago.

Once questions were raised about the Sept. 8 story, the AP said, editors began checking other sources in Mr. Newton's work, "but AP researchers were unable to verify the existence of about 15 individuals," the agency said.

Mr. Newton, a graduate of Texas Christian University, has been with AP since 1994. He worked in Dallas and Lubbock, Texas, and Harrisburg, Pa., before joining the Washington bureau in 2000. He began covering the Justice Department in June.

The AP said: "Newton maintained the interviews that were questioned in the crime story were valid, but he was unable to provide any corroboration after they were challenged. Newton apologized to his editors, but insisted he had never fabricated news content in any way."

"Credibility is AP's most important asset, and we're distressed that we have discovered that some of Chris Newton's stories contain material that doesn't hold up," the AP spokeswoman said. "It's a violation of our most basic rules. We are intensely investigating how this happened and reviewing our editorial process to make sure it never happens again."

Pinup gal?

A letter yesterday from Capt. John Stephens, Marine Barracks Washington, on Nancy Ives' departure as Sen. John McCain's press secretary to take a job with an organization with an office in Lyon, France: "I had not previously known about Sen. McCain's press secretary, but I am certain that she will be missed and express hope that she will not be in the Lyon, France, office too much. Oh, and thanks for the picture of Miss Ives."

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