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Topeka, Kan., Editor Resigns Over Story

June 25, 2004

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A managing editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal resigned when the newspaper learned that the subject of a lengthy profile had lied about being a survivor of the Bataan Death March during World War II.

The Capital-Journal announced the resignation of Anita Miller, managing editor for special projects, in a story posted Thursday on its Web site. The paper also apologized for its May 2 profile of Juanita Smith.

In that profile, the 86-year-old Smith said she was a Navy nurse during the war and that she was among thousands of Americans who surrendered to the Japanese in the Philippines in 1942, only to be forced to march more than 60 miles to a prisoner-of-war camp.

The newspaper confronted Smith on Tuesday, after investigating two e-mail tips questioning her story. Smith admitted she had lied to the paper, her employer and in speeches she had given on the subject.

Smith resigned the next day, the newspaper said.

Executive Editor Will Kennedy apologized to readers in Thursday’s story.

``We did not confirm many of the facts in the story before publication and we did not move with due speed in resolving the situation after we were notified that there were problems with the article.″ Contacted by the AP Thursday, Kennedy said he didn’t want to comment further.

Later Thursday, Miller said in a statement that she had questioned the story before its publication and had been assured it was accurate.

When questions later arose, ``At all times I was cooperative and was concerned with the credibility of the story and the newspaper.″

Miller, who had worked for the newspaper for 28 years, said she was told she could resign or be fired. ``I did not resign because of any wrongdoing,″ she said.

Susan Fahlgren Rothschild, a freelance writer who wrote the Smith story, said she researched the Bataan Death March before she interviewed Smith and found no reason to doubt Smith’s story. She also checked the newspaper’s archives and found many positive stories involving Smith. She also said Smith had a good reputation in the community, where she serves as director of the Topeka YWCA’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program.

Rothschild said the newspaper informed her it no longer will publish her stories.

The newspaper reported Thursday that Miller received an e-mail three days after the Smith profile appeared, questioning the story. Miller assigned a reporter to do some checking, and attended a May 19 speech Smith gave, entitled ``Bataan and Beyond.″

On June 8, Managing Editor Wayne Stewart received a similar message questioning Smith’s credentials and began his own investigation. He did not know anyone else at the paper had received a complaint, the newspaper said.

Smith told the newspaper that she fabricated the story after she arrived in Topeka in the early 1990s. She said she told the story during an interview with the YWCA to make an impression and land the job with the pregnancy prevention program.

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