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FACT CHECK: Students Question Speech’s Accuracy

Sarah Baran and Matt Troher

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On the first morning of the yearly Fall Operation Snowball retreat, Nov. 3, attendees filed into the main cabin, took a seat, and got ready to listen to an approximately hour-long speech.

One Snowball attendee, senior Fredo Fosco, felt uneasy almost as soon as the first motivational speaker, Loren Michaels Harris, stepped into the room.

“The first thing that tipped me off was he said ‘I have four million social media followers,’ and that was odd because he wasn’t touching on exactly where the followers were coming from or anything. None of us had ever heard of him,” Fosco said.

Fosco, along with his friend, senior Nolan Watts, were quick to fact check. Fosco and Watts jumped on their social media accounts to check Harris’s social media statistics.

“I was surprised we got someone that big for Snowball, so [Fosco and I] looked him up on Instagram during his speech and he only had about 1,200 followers, then I showed Fredo and we were like ‘something’s up,’” Watts said.
On major social media networks, Harris has 1,207 Instagram followers, 118 Twitter followers, 27 YouTube subscribers, 16 Pinterest followers, and 10 Google+ followers.

On his Facebook, Harris is marked as a “public figure.” Overall, as of Dec. 6, 10,955 people have liked Harris’s page and 10,961 people follow him. The sum of these social media numbers is 12,339, far short of the 4 million he claimed during his speech.

At the conclusion of the weekend,Fosco posted on Twitter a thread of tweets claiming information Harris stated in his speech could not be verified. As of Dec. 6, Fosco’s tweets have garnered a total of 13,188 impressions on Twitter. An impression is the number of times people interacted with a tweet.

At Snowball, Harris delivered a speech about his life in the foster care system and his subsequent life achievements. He made note that he was a “No.1 best-selling author” and that he had a recording contract with Capitol Records.

In an Omega phone interview, Harris said he has written a total of three books. Harris’s first book, How to Get Speaking Gigs Fast, is co-written and can be found on Amazon, where it has three customer reviews and a four-star rating. Harris’s website states his second book, Fostering Your Message, is available on Amazon, but no results are found when searched. The existence of Harris’s third book was confirmed by him during the interview, but no results were found when searched.

During his speech at Snowball, Harris said he had a recording contract with Capitol Records, but during an Omega interview, he elaborated on his previous statement. He said he was associated with Beware Records, an independent record label located in Benton Harbor, Michigan.

Harris then went on to describe the relationship between Beware and Capitol Records.

“Independent record companies, they’ll speak to a label, and it’s really for backing money, so you can record at will, or in case you need the budget for a video,” Harris said.

Like many up-and-coming artists, Harris has both a Spotify and a Soundcloud page. On Soundcloud, Harris has three songs, three followers, and a total of 42 plays. As for Spotify, Harris only has one song on his artist page, entitled “No Fences,” and a total of four monthly listeners.

While Harris was open with his statements, some of his claims were vague and could be left to interpretation. These statements included being on Oprah, as well as being featured in People magazine.

The Omega confirmed that he was featured in a 1988 People magazine. The article is about a company that Harris created called Apology Accepted, which made apology-specific greeting cards. Since that article’s release, nothing on the company has been written, and Apology Accepted is now a defunct business.

According to Harris himself, he was on Oprah twice. Once as a guest and the next as an expert.

“One time I was on stage, the very first time, with a woman who started a company the same quarter as mine…. Then I got called back to the show about six months later to sit in the front row as an expert for a segment called ‘Sorry Just Won’t Cut It,’” Harris said.

As of Dec. 7, the Omega was unable to confirm or deny either of Harris’s Oprah appearances. Search results for “Sorry Just Won’t Cut It Oprah” or “Loren Michaels Harris Oprah” yield nothing related to what Harris told the Omega, but the website does not include episodes dating back to 1988 and Omega has not been able to reach Oprah’s media contacts yet.

During his Snowball speech, Harris briefly touched on his past with drug abuse and how he worked through it. He made note that he ran into trouble with the law during this period.

While researching Harris, the Omega discovered these records.

Between 1998-2010, Harris was arrested in Berrien County, Michigan four separate times, each for different offenses. The offenses ranged from embezzlement to uttering and publishing. The Michigan Legislature defines uttering as: “A person who utters and publishes as true a false, forged, altered, or counterfeit record, instrument, or other writing listed in section 248 knowing it to be false, altered, forged, or counterfeit, with intent to injure or defraud is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than 14 years.”

When Omega asked about his criminal history, Harris explained.

“What I did was I would write a bad check, I’d get on the internet and do the credit card thing. Through it all, I still had boundries, I still had limits of what I would and would not do. I was never a violent person,” Harris said about his past.

While Harris wasn’t a physically violent person, he does still have a criminal background that deals with illegal monetary transaction and fraudulent misrepresentation.

District 99 uses a security system called Raptor to screen all visitors to the schools, but the system only scans criminal databases for registered sex offenders.

The Omega reached out to Dr. Ken Sorensen, who is the Associate Principal for Operations and Technology, for more information about the Raptor system.

“The software scans a database for registered sex offenders. We request a state-issued photo ID like a driver’s license, for example, from visitors. If there is a match, we ask our School Resource Officer to verify,” Sorensen said.

Since Harris did not enter the building, this process never occurred for him. He does not have any sexual offenses on his record, so the Raptor system would not have yielded information about his past.

When asked about how Harris was invited to speak at Snowball, Snowball sponsor Keith Bullock responded by email.

“We use recommendations from the state Snowball organization, local speaker boards, and word of mouth recommendations from other Snowball programs,” Bullock said.

In an Omega interview with a State Operation Snowball representative, Director of Program Development Ron Jakubis stated that the State Snowball Organization does not have a list of approved and recommended speakers.
“What we do is we ask Snowball chapters all over the state that when they do look at speakers, that they ask for contacts for schools they spoke at so they can get a testimony from that school,” Jakubis said.

After the weekend, DGN Snowball paid Harris $1,050 for his presentation, a typical stipend for Snowball speakers, according to Bullock. Harris also went on to speak at the DGS Snowball the following weekend.

After this experience, Watts hopes that future Snowball speakers are more forthright.

“It degrades the message that he has; he had a good story, but you have to take it with a grain of salt if he is stretching the truth,” Watts said about Harris’s involvement with Snowball.

Fosco believes that Harris’s speech could have taken away the deep message and connections that Snowball offers.
“It’s just kind of offensive, because you have all these kids going in there, telling their peers deep things about their personal lives that no one knew. Then you have this person that comes in and tells what everyone wants to hear, and that’s not the point of Snowball,” Fosco said.

1 Comment

One Response to “FACT CHECK: Students Question Speech’s Accuracy”

  1. Kathleen King on February 8th, 2018 9:27 am

    I wanted to take a moment to applaud you both on the investigative journalism and the fine objective writing demonstrated in this piece. It is one of the most laudable examples of journalistic ideals I have encountered, and I want to thank you for your aspirational work.

    [Reply]

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FACT CHECK: Students Question Speech’s Accuracy