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Tom Kenny, WTVQ TV, Lexington, KY
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WIU Alum Earns Emmy Award for Consumer Service Reporting

August 17, 2005

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MACOMB, IL - - Tom Kenny, a 1983 Western Illinois University mass communication/broadcasting graduate, recently won his first Emmy Award for “Degrees of Deception,” a story involving the authenticity of online college degrees.

The Regional Emmy Award was presented in July at the 41st Annual Television Academy Awards Ceremony for the Ohio Valley Chapter.

Kenny is the Actions News at Noon anchor at ABC affiliate WTVQ in Lexington, KY, and he covers the Action News 36 Investigation Beat. He has more than 25 years of experience in broadcast journalism, including 21 years in the Lexington television market as a reporter, sports director and main news anchor.

“I am honored and humbled by the award,” Kenny said. “I was so proud of the story because it informed, raised awareness and ultimately played a role in better protecting consumers and companies from being deceived by people with fake college degrees.”

The impetus for his investigation was the numerous, unsolicited e-mail messages offering college diplomas that did not require any academic work which he received. That, coupled with the growing number of high profile cases of coaches falsifying their resumes and using bogus degrees to get jobs and advance their careers, whet his appetite.

With a simple Google search for online diplomas, Kenny hit the jackpot.

“I got thousands of hits,” he said. “After I randomly chose, I discovered that I could get a college degree in anything I wanted.”

It is all about the money.

“You didn’t have to do any work. All you had to do was pay; and the more money you spend, the more advanced degree you could get,” Kenny explained. “And if the “university” doesn’t offer a major that individuals were interested in, they are allowed to create their own.”

BachelorÂ’s degrees are cheapest; doctorates cost more. Students can also graduate with honors, such as Cum Laude or Magna Cum Laude by paying extra.

To showcase the absurdity of the scam, Kenny decided to “earn” a degree in an area he wasn’t the least bit qualified for – aerospace engineering.

After submitting basic information, KennyÂ’s credit card was billed $299, and in two weeks he received an undergraduate degree in aerospace engineering from Ashwood University.

“All the documents looked very authentic,” said Kenny. “The diploma, my transcripts – which included every “class” I took for each semester and the grades I “earned” – everything was there, and it all looked real.”

Kenny also received a certificate that indicated he had mastered linear circuits -- which he admits to knowing nothing about – as well as an alumni bumper sticker and offers to buy a class ring and other Ashwood University merchandise.

Investigating further, Kenny discovered a darker side of online degrees and potential abuses, such as pedophiles earning degrees in child counseling, opening up private practices and preying on unsuspecting victims. He also exposed federal government employees who knowingly received bogus online degrees to advance their careers, using nearly $100,000 of taxpayerÂ’s money.

KennyÂ’s investigation prompted State Representative Susan Westrom (Lexington, KY), a champion in consumer protection, to file and co-sponsor a bill that would crack down on online diploma mills and the individuals who use them to purposely deceive people and employers.

Another unsettling discovery was made after Kenny noticed that the return address on the envelope of his false degree was from Pakistan. Forensic computer specialists confirmed the connection to Pakistan but were unable to determine exactly who the money went to and what it was used for.

The Peoria (IL) native, who is a former member of WesternÂ’s Alumni Council, began his broadcasting career as the four-year student voice of WIU football and basketball for the campus radio station.

After graduating from Western, he got his start in radio at WJEQ in Macomb and then joined WLEX-TV, an NBC affiliate in Lexington, KY, in 1984. Kenny has served as a sports reporter for ESPN, SportsChannel, NBC Sports and the BreederÂ’s Cup Newsfeed. He was also the studio host and halftime producer for CBS Radio SportsÂ’ College Football Game of the Week and covered the NFL for One-On-One Radio Sports.

Prior to joining Action News 36, he served as Vice President of the Houston Astros Minor League baseball team in Lexington.

Kenny has had six other Emmy nominations and has won Associated Press awards for reporting and anchoring. He has also won two Addy Awards for excellence in promotional writing and was voted Outstanding Young Man of the Year by WhoÂ’s Who in 1999.

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