In what might be the biggest letdown of the Christmas season, a viral story of kindness was recently labeled "fake news." The story about a kindly man dressed as Santa Claus who visited a hospital in response to a 5-year-old boy's dying wish might not have happened at all.
Glenn introduced his guest, John Ziegler, who wrote a column on Mediaite questioning the tale, by calling him "Mr. Grinch."
Listen to the clip or read the transcript below for more.
GLENN: John Ziegler, you're a mean one, Mr. Grinch.
JOHN: Glenn, your description of me there sounds like what my wife would say if she's describing my entire career. That's pretty close.
GLENN: Yes. Yes.
So, John, I mean, I read this story this week, and even Jeffy said -- after I did the story on the air, so I've got a few questions. And I said, "Shut up."
JOHN: Right. Right.
GLENN: But you -- you have to go and somehow or another prove Santa is a liar.
PAT: Well, that may be a good thing if a little kid didn't die, though. Right? That's awesome.
STU: Yeah, that's great.
JOHN: Well, that's one of the things that confuses me about this story is, you know, I'm taking a lot of flak for a column I wrote on Mediaite questioning this story.
I'm pretty well convinced at this point that the story is false. Probably entirely false. And I'm happy to explain why.
But you're exactly right. This is good news.
JOHN: I don't think any 5-year-old boy died in Santa's arms.
GLENN: Okay. Explain it here, John. Because the Santa looks like such a great Santa's helper. I can't believe this guy would intentionally -- I mean, I -- I mean, we've seen some horrible things. But for this guy to --
JOHN: Right. Right.
PAT: If you missed the story. He says that he got a call from the hospital, right? From the nurse or whatever.
GLENN: Yeah. Yeah.
PAT: And you don't even have time to put on your full Santa gear, just get here. Little boy is dying. His last wish is to see Santa Claus. And so he races there. He asks the parents to wait outside in the hallway. He goes in.
JEFFY: Family already miraculously has a present for Santa to give him.
PAT: Right. Right. So what have you found out, John?
JOHN: Well, you know, I think what Glenn has inadvertently done is put his finger on why the news media bought this story and why the original columnist, not a reporter, a columnist for a small newspaper in Knoxville, Tennessee, bought into this hook, line, and sinker.
Because I believe this guy, this Santa was imbued with all of our projections of Santa Claus. It's not possible that a guy who looks like Santa Claus could do this.
And in his defense, he's a tremendous -- if he's acting, a tremendous actor because he did put on the waterworks. And it was very compelling in the story that he told. Except there's some very important facts missing, like the name of the nurse that called him. How about the name of the hospital? How about the date on which this happened? The reporter, in an interview after this thing went super viral, says he has no idea when this actually happened. He thinks it happened about a month ago. How about the name of the boy? We don't need a last name. How about a first name? How about any other witness to what happened --
GLENN: All right. Jimmy. The name is Jimmy. How is that? Does it make you happy, Mr. Grinch?
JOHN: Well, what I would then do, Glenn, which is what I've done, is I would spend a ridiculous amount of time searching the obituaries for Knoxville, Tennessee, for the entire month of November for any 5-year-old boy, and guess what we found?
JEFFY: That sounds like fun.
PAT: And then there was none? Zero.
JOHN: There was not even close to one.
PAT: Wow, that's great. Good.
JOHN: And the reality -- look, here's the classic story. And, Glenn, I have seen this happen in other cases. Ask Stu and Pat about my experience on the Penn State, quote, unquote, scandal.
JOHN: Where the media buys into a narrative. And there should be massive amounts of evidence, and there's none. But it doesn't matter to the news media because they love the narrative. They don't care.
PAT: They don't care.
JOHN: And so once they have the narrative and once it goes viral and it's a tremendous story and a great headline, look out. There should be massive evidence here. And there's none. And the fact that Santa at this point is still sticking by his story, without anybody backing him up, not the mom, not the nurse, nothing -- no dates that should be there, to me indicates the whole story is a hoax.
PAT: It's fishy. It's fishy.
JOHN: Because if it was just an exaggeration, he would be able to say, "Well, here is the mom. Can't you come over and -- you know, help me out here. Or here's the nurse." Instead --
GLENN: So you don't even think there was a kid at all?
JOHN: Well, I mean, could there possibly have been a germ of truth somewhere? Yeah. But I have a -- and this is purely speculation on my part, but I think one of the weirdest elements of this story is that he says that his wife went to Nashville from Knoxville immediately after this happened. And he stayed in Knoxville because he was so emotionally upset.
Now, being married, that immediately says to me, well, wait a minute. Is this a cover story for some reason why he needed to be in Knoxville and not go with his wife to Nashville and this thing got blown out of proportion when a reporter asked him about it?
Interestingly, the reporter said that he was mystified by this. Boy, this Santa really didn't want to tell his story. And as a matter of fact, at one point, he almost backed out of doing the story with me.
And I'm thinking, "Duh! Of course, he's almost backing out. Because it's not true, and he's afraid that this might come end up coming back to bite him," never realizing --
GLENN: Hang on, Mr. -- hang on, Mr. Ziegler. By the way, Ziegler -- is that a Christian name?
JOHN: Actually it is. You know, the Trumpsters like to call me a Jew boy. But I'm actually quite Christian. I'm a baptized --
GLENN: Well, I'll believe it when I see your baptismal certificate.
JOHN: I have to speak to you, Glenn, from outside of my daughter's Christmas recital.
GLENN: Right. I'm sure. I'm sure. What, are you going to expose that as a fraud too?
Now, let me ask you this: So, John, are you -- now, I know this is your speculation. You don't have verification. But did you just speculate that Santa was cheating on Mrs. Claus and this was a cover story?
JOHN: Well, I didn't say that. You said that, Glenn. I'm saying consistent with there needing to be someone for him to stay behind in Knoxville while he was wife --
JEFFY: America heard you say it, John. America heard you say it.
GLENN: Oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh --
PAT: John, is it possible at all that this happened in October, or have you checked October records too?
JOHN: Well, I've not checked October records. But the reporter is positive that this thing happened in November, although he doesn't have a date.
JOHN: By the way, the date is -- now, lack of date is important because it doesn't have verification and there should be a date easily. But think about it logically: In October, what 5-year-old boy is thinking about Santa Claus as he's dying?
PAT: Right. Yeah.
JOHN: It's too early. It's too early. The story makes no sense. What mom leaves their dying son alone with a total stranger?
PAT: That -- that's the most preposterous --
STU: That's the one that got me. You picture your kids. They're a minute away from death, you're just like, "I'll hang out in the hall while you're with Santa Claus." It doesn't feel like something you would do as a parent. You would stay in the room no matter what.
GLENN: You might have been hungry. You hadn't been eating very much. The cafeteria is about to close. Somebody is there to sit with the kid. I'm going to go to the lunchroom for a minute. I'm going to grab a sandwich.
PAT: Yeah, as he's dying within the next five minutes. I doubt that. I doubt that.
JOHN: And, by the way, his parents already have a gift ready to in early November for a Santa --
JOHN: Who, by the way, interestingly, part of his story, Glenn, which is suspicious to me, he doesn't have his full Santa garb on because he was rushing out of the house to go --
JEFFY: Well, the nurse told him not to.
JOHN: Well, doesn't that give him the ultimate out here? Plausible deniability for why no one remembers a Santa Claus in the hospital and why no hospital right now is verifying this story in the Knoxville area? To me, it makes --
GLENN: Have you called the hospitals? Have you called the hospitals?
JOHN: I did not, but Snopes did. And they have not -- in fact, that's what really started the ball rolling this morning, that the newspaper had to back off the story. Because they -- get this. This is journalism in 2016. The newspaper said that their investigation began after they originally reported the story to not verify any of the facts.
JOHN: How about before the story?
STU: Yeah, here's the quote: Since publication, the News Sentinel has additional investigation in an attempt to independently verify the account. This has proven unsuccessful. Although facts about his background have checked out, his story of bringing a gift to a dying child remains unverified. The News Sentinel cannot establish that the 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 the account.
GLENN: I will tell you, John, the guys said -- the guys said earlier today that, you know, Glenn, he's just trying to do this, get his name out, pump up Santa business because he's a great Santa.
GLENN: I got to tell you, this wrecks this -- shave your beard, man. You are going to be the pariah of Santas if you made this up.
JOHN: But, Glenn, I think it's possible that this thing snowballed out of control and he never intended it to go this far. I think it's -- one of the many things that got my antenna up was this coming from a small market in Knoxville, Tennessee. I don't think anybody involved in this story had any expectation it ever gets beyond Knoxville. Because of the world we're now living in, things can explode overnight.
JOHN: And how about a little bit of focus on the news media? We're talking about major news media outlets that picked this story up, hook, line, and sinker. With zero scrutiny, zero follow-up, and zero corroboration of any of these facts that don't exist. That to me is the real part of this story that matters. Because it exposes how broken the news media is in 2016. By the way, that's partially how we got Donald Trump as our president.
STU: Do you think there's any chance that he's just going over and above to protect the family's identity and keep their privacy? And he's maybe manufactured some of the details to throw people off the trail?
JOHN: This morning -- I wrote my story for Mediaite last night. We decided to wait another 12 hours or so before we went with it because we were waiting, "Okay. Is it possible that somebody will come forward?" At this point, this story has gotten so big, there's no way that the nurse doesn't come forward. The mom doesn't come forward on background. Somebody to back up this guy's story.
There's just no way. So it's theoretically possible, yes, but there would be evidence of that by now, given the nature of the story. And the fact that it doesn't exist -- the absence of evidence, in my view is evidence of absence.
GLENN: John, one last question.
JOHN: Yes, Glenn.
GLENN: The jolly old elf hears what's being said about him, hears that he's -- his affair on Mrs. Claus while she was baking Christmas cookies has been exposed --
GLENN: He takes a leap without the flying reindeer. Then how do you feel, John? You killed Santa.
JEFFY: Oh, boy.
JOHN: Well, my 4-year-old daughter is not going to be happy with me, I can assure you that. I will be in the doghouse for sure.
JOHN: I'm one of these weird guys, Glenn, who the truth still matters in a post-truth world.
GLENN: Yeah, I know. I appreciate you doing this. I bought into it too. And I wanted to believe. Because we questioned it. And I'm like, "Just leave it alone. Just leave it alone." I wanted to believe.
JOHN: But that's why it went viral, Glenn, and that's why it's important we expose this because this happens on more important stories than just this.
GLENN: Yes, I know. Yes. Yes. You're exactly right. And, John, I appreciate you coming on the show. And appreciating your -- your incredible -- seemingly incredible amount of time to investigate something as silly as this. And yet, it is the story of our days. This is what we're going through now on everything. Geo.
JOHN: Thanks so much, Glenn.
Hey, one of these days, let's talk about that Penn State story. It's so similar, it's unbelievable. But I appreciate your support. Thanks.
GLENN: You got it. Thanks, John. John Ziegler. I really like him.
PAT: He's great. He's great.
GLENN: He's really brilliant.
PAT: And he's right about the Penn State story. We should revisit that. The whole Joe Paterno thing. He's really passionate about --
JEFFY: That Penn State story is fascinating.
GLENN: Wait. Wait. Wait.
PAT: Oh, you don't know about that?
STU: This is a wormhole.
JEFFY: It is a wormhole.
PAT: Not only is Joe Paterno not guilty of anything. It didn't even happen.
PAT: Neither is what's-his-face, the guy who's in jail for it --
PAT: Yeah, Sandusky didn't do it either. That's John's case.
PAT: And he says there's a mountain --
JEFFY: And he makes a good case.
PAT: -- a mountain of evidence.
JEFFY: He makes a good case.
PAT: He makes a really -- yeah.
GLENN: Oh, let's -- when we get back in January --
PAT: He's fired up about it.
GLENN: When we get back in January, I have to hear about that. Because if that's true, we need to -- that's injustice.
PAT: Me too.
GLENN: That's injustice.
PAT: Huge injustice.
GLENN: We need to help --
PAT: According to John, a humongous injustice has been done, and part of it was because Joe Paterno is conservative, or was.
PAT: And he probably still is.
STU: Well, we don't know.
GLENN: Probably even more so now.
PAT: Probably more so.
STU: Probably hasn't changed his political opinion.
PAT: No, probably not.