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Oh, What a Tangled Web: USA Today Reporter Lied Extensively

Hey, we don’t make stuff up without warning you about it. Joining other famous sociopaths, like Jayson Blair at the NY Times, USA Today has found that former star reporter Jack Kelley made up all kinds of shit:

    USA Today reported the initial findings of an ongoing investigation in a front-page story in its Friday editions, along with several other stories enumerating Kelley’s fabrications, including an article published in 2000 in which he made up a story about a woman dying while trying to flee Cuba by boat.

    “As an institution, we failed our readers by not recognizing Jack Kelley’s problems,” publisher Craig Moon said. “For that I apologize.”

    The investigation began seven weeks ago and is being led by three veteran journalists with the assistance of several reporters at the paper. The team examined more than 700 stories that Kelley wrote in the last 10 years of his career at the paper, from 1993 through 2003.

    The team also found that Kelley had stolen quotes or other material from competing publications, lied in speeches he delivered for USA Today and conspired to mislead the investigation into his work.

    An examination of his company-owned computer unearthed scripts Kelley had written to help at least three people mislead reporters attempting to verify his work, the newspaper said.

    Kelley resigned under pressure in January after he admitted trying to deceive editors checking into the veracity of some of his reporting. Suspicions later came to light that Kelley may have also committed plagiarism, and the second panel was formed to undertake a thorough investigation of Kelley’s entire 21-year career at the paper.

    ….The scandal caused more hand-wringing in the journalism profession, which is still struggling with the legacy of Jayson Blair, a young reporter whose extensive fabrications and plagiarism at The New York Times led to a newsroom uproar that eventually resulted in the ouster of the Times’ top two editors.

    “I’m heartbroken, and the news today was numbing,” said Bob Dubill, a former executive editor of USA Today who retired two years ago after 20 years at the newspaper.

    Bob Steele, a senior scholar in journalism values and ethics at The Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla., a nonprofit journalism training and research center, said that “big questions” needed to be asked about “system failure” at USA Today.

    “How did Kelley’s journalistic and ethical chicanery exist for so long?” Steele said. “Why didn’t the editorial oversight that should exist at a major newspaper reveal these serious faults, especially there seemed to have been so many of them?” [AP]

The NY Times rather cheerfully put the story on their front page today:

    [Kelley] appears to have fabricated substantial portions of at least eight major articles in the last 10 years, including one that earned him a finalist nomination for a Pulitzer Prize in 2002, the newspaper reported yesterday.

    USA Today, the nation’s largest-circulation newspaper, said Mr. Kelley had engaged in his deceptions around the globe, apparently inventing such accounts as his face-to-face encounter with a suicide bomber in Jerusalem, his participation in a high-speed hunt in 2003 for Osama bin Laden

    ….Mr. Kelley, 43, is also accused of using at least two dozen passages from the work of other news organizations without attribution and trying to subvert USA Today’s investigation by concocting scripts – complete with phony identities – for associates to follow if his editors tried to substantiate his work, the newspaper said.

Our own Jay Rosen is quoted in the article! Dude, I am totally compressed.

    Jay Rosen, the chairman of the journalism department at New York University, said that the disclosure of Mr. Kelley’s journalistic sins was likely to further undermine the public’s faith in the veracity of newspapers and journalists.

    “For a lot of the casual public, it’s one more piece of evidence against an institution they feel they can’t trust,” Mr. Rosen said.

Tell it Jay.

    Mr. Kelley, whose byline first appeared in the newspaper’s inaugural issue in 1982, resigned under pressure on Jan. 6. The newspaper had discovered that Mr. Kelley had arranged for a woman who had not been involved in the reporting of a 1999 article – written ostensibly from Belgrade – to pass herself off to his editors as a translator. The inquiry that led to Mr. Kelley’s resignation had been triggered by an anonymous complaint last May.

    ….Among the newspaper’s findings was that Mr. Kelley’s eyewitness account of the bombing of a pizzeria in Jerusalem in August 2001, contained observations that the newspaper now believes to be erroneous.

    “Three men, who had been eating pizza inside, were catapulted out of the chairs they had been sitting on,” Mr. Kelley wrote in the front-page account. “When they hit the ground their heads separated from their bodies and rolled down the street.”

    USA Today wrote yesterday that Mr. Kelley, “by his own account, 90 feet away and his back to the pizzeria,” would have been hard-pressed to witness such a scene. “Regardless,” the paper continued, “no adult victims were decapitated.” The article was one of nine that the newspaper’s editors included in nominating him for the Pulitzer Prize for beat reporting.

    Another article, Mr. Kelley’s front-page account, in February 2000, of six Cuban refugees who drowned in a storm “was a lie from start to finish,” the paper wrote.

    Atop that article, which was later reprinted in Reader’s Digest, the newspaper published a photograph of one of the refugees that Mr. Kelley said he had taken days before the voyage that would claim her life. The newspaper said it had recently located the woman, and that she is “alive, married, pregnant and now living in the southeastern United States.”

    Mr. Kelley’s former colleagues said they were shocked by the lengths he had gone to deceive his editors as they investigated his work.

    Yesterday, the newspaper published a script Mr. Kelley had apparently prepared for a man in Jerusalem, asking that he play the role of “David,” an Israeli intelligence agent who might assure his editors of the accuracy of an article he had written from Hebron in 2001 about “vigilante Jewish settlers” who were “shooting and beating Palestinians.”

    “I need you to be `David’ one more time,” Mr. Kelley implored in the message, which was dated July 18, 2003 and found on his laptop. “This will be it. I promise. No more.”

Wow – at what point is making things up and covering one’s tracks more effort than simply doing honest reporting? Oh, what a tangled web we weave…

Now Kelley can write a book about his career of deceit, just like Jayson Blair.

About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014.Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: [email protected], Facebook.com/amhaunted, Pinterest America's Most Haunted.Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

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