Getting duped isn’t fun for any

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The newspaper business revolves around one very simple thing — the truth.

Every day we rely on dozens of sources to tell us the truth. Sure, we don’t always completely trust the politicians, the scoundrels and the folks with axes to grind. So we seek to verify their “truths” with paperwork and other sources.

But there are countless other people who would have no reason to lie. Those sources we simply must trust.

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Until we get duped, that is.

I discovered Monday morning that a Natchez resident had won the lottery. A story and photo were posted on the Louisiana Lottery Web site, so I called the lottery office to get a phone number of the Natchez winner.

The phone number only led me to an automated error message — “this number is not reachable.”

So I did the next best thing and started calling every Stephens — the last name of the winner — in the phone book.

After a few folks who regretfully acknowledged that they weren’t related to the man who’d won $100,000 in the lottery, I talked to a lady who said she was.

She passed the phone to the man’s wife. I told her I was trying to find the man who won the lottery. She passed the phone to the man, saying he was her husband.

I told the man who I was, where I worked and asked if he’d recently won the lottery.

He said he had.

I proceeded to ask him 10 to 15 other questions about the lottery win, including “What was your reaction when you scratched off the card and realized you’d won?”

His response?

“I was shocked. I never thought I’d win.”

The confusion began Tuesday morning when I talked with Mr. Stephens’ wife on the phone, the same wife I’d talked to the night before.

She had called to tell me that her husband did not win the lottery.


Then why did he tell me he had, I asked. The wife was unsure, saying only that her husband must have thought I was joking.

Let’s hope so. I’d hate to believe that someone would outright lie to me for no apparent reason. Surely he thought I was a friend playing a practical joke on him.

I talked with the man later Tuesday and he apologized for lying to me, but didn’t offer a good explanation.

After talking with the Louisiana Lottery folks Tuesday, we discovered the real winner wasn’t married and is likely about 10 years younger than the man I talked to.

I still can’t find a working phone number for the real winner.

The dictionary on my computer gives an example sentence along with the definition of the word “dupe.”

“The newspaper was duped into publishing an untrue story,” it says.

If newspapers are a part of the definition, the duping must be pretty common.

I’d love to say we’ll now verify people’s true identity before quoting them, but such is simply not a feasible reality. We often quote people who are simply shopping, walking their dog or mowing their lawn. We must rely on those people to be honest.

When sources aren’t honest, they don’t just dupe this newspaper, they dupe the whole community.

We’d all like to pretend we’ve won the lottery. I guess this guy just saw his chance and took it.

Unfortunately, for him, there’s no check in the mail.

Julie Cooper is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or