Jack Kelley, p.o.s.

You think you’re unshockable. Janet Cooke happened at the beginning of my career, and over the years I’ve seen my share of less-celebrated plagiarists and fabulists go slinking out the newsroom door in disgrace. They had a lot in common, most often a personal life that was circling the drain. Substance abuse, domestic strife, borderline personality — you know the drill. You can find people like them in most offices, but you know what they say. A doctor buries his mistakes, a lawyer’s go to jail, but a newspaper reporter’s get read by thousands of people who aren’t as dumb or blind as his or her editors.

But I have to say, Jack Kelley of USA Today, the most recently disgraced, is a breed apart. Plagiarist, fabulist and egomaniac, caught dead to rights, he still refuses to admit he lied like a rug: Confronted Thursday with the newspaper’s findings, Kelley spent 2 1/2 hours again denying wrongdoing. ‘I feel like I’m being set up,’ he told them.

Set up for what? The team investigating his too-good-to-be-true stories found one after another either couldn’t be verified or could be actively disproved — the live woman who was supposed to be dead, to name but one.

I don’t read USA Today, except on rare occasions. And I don’t follow the inside-baseball stuff closely enough to know who Kelley was when his name first turned up. But as I read the excerpts from his stories, they set off every b.s. detector in the room, and I simply can’t believe they didn’t set off some at the higher levels of USA Today, too. He “watched a Pakistani student unfold a picture of the Sears Tower and say, ‘This one is mine,’ in 2001”? He witnessed, at a suicide bombing, “Three men, who had been eating pizza inside, were catapulted out of the chairs they had been sitting on. When they hit the ground their heads separated from their bodies and rolled down the street.” And no one said hmm? I’ve never seen a bombing, but I don’t think there’s anything about the human neck that makes the head more of a tear-away appendage than, say, an arm or leg. Three bodies dismember in precisely the same way and then the heads roll away so cinematically? And odd that he could somehow, with a blast so close, keep his eyes open and recording the sights so precisely, rather than doing what any other person would be doing — throwing his hands and arms up to protect himself. He even knew what they were eating! (True, it was a pizza restaurant, but maybe they were having the baked ziti. Just a thought.)

This guy tops Jayson Blair, if you ask me. Blair was at least running around town snorting coke and drinking himself blind like a true lying desperado. But Kelley, an evangelical Christian, was polishing his halo, telling an interviewer: (My editor) thinks that me being a Christian gives me a different perspective on things. I certainly hope so, because I pray which stories I shouldn’t take, and hopefully that helps. ‘ Prayer is a daily, daily, if not an hourly part of my job here. In my entire life, I cannot separate my faith from my profession. If I did, I wouldn’t be in this profession. I wouldn’t have had the success that I’ve had. I think it’s a gift, and I can tell when I’m in tune with the Lord. Circumstances just happen. Stories just fall into my lap. I kid you not. Stories just fall into my lap when I’m in tune with the Lord. That’s probably because the Lord knows I’m too dumb to go out and find them myself, because I never find them. It’s just unbelievable. You sit back each night, and I feel his pleasure when I report, and there’s no greater feeling.

This guy better pray to God to save his sorry lying ass, because something else just dropped in his lap, and it has a fuse.

UPDATE: A commentator just noted the vanishing-hitchhiker story from Jack’s speaking career. It’s too good not to link.

Posted at 8:03 pm in Uncategorized |

7 responses to “Jack Kelley, p.o.s.”

  1. ashley said on March 22, 2004 at 2:03 pm

    It’s USA Today, that bastion of journalistic integrity, the “Dick and Jane” of newspapers.

    What did he do, forge a pie chart?

    Actually, after reading the USA Today article, what I found most amazing was that “Kelley spent his entire 21 year career at USA Today”. Where did this clown pay his dues, the Bumfuck High Tattler? Jeez.

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  2. deb, practicing catholic. said on March 22, 2004 at 4:30 pm

    you know what chaps my ass? that “christianity today” is floating the notion that this guy is being harassed because he’s a christian. give me a freaking break. i have worked in newsrooms with a more than a few over-the-top religious types, and not ONE of them ever came under fire because of their religious beliefs. when a reporter like jack kelley gets crosswise of his editors, it’s because he’s screwed up, not because he’s devout.

    CT seems to find it ominous that news stories about this dustup mention jack’s faith, hinting broadly that the writers may be sending us some sort of coded message. CT misses the point entirely. kelley’s christianity is an interesting part of the story because one would assume that christian values would preclude him from, you know, MAKING SHIT UP. christian acts like complete jerk = man bites dog.

    also, kelley’s comments about god dropping stories in his lap made me spit my coffee. what a tool.

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  3. Nance said on March 22, 2004 at 5:17 pm

    Well, to be sure, that entry from was when the investigation started, and I expect the slant was suggested by JK’s many buddies in the evangelical community. At the time, there was no shortage of people leaping to his defense, calling him the most decent honest man they’d ever met, blah blah blah, and there’s no way he could ever do anything like this and blah blah blah.

    I suspect, now that the evidence has been assembled, CT will quietly drop JK from its Christmas-card list. But I haven’t checked recently. I should.

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  4. Ann said on March 22, 2004 at 5:19 pm

    My favorite was the one where he told the vanishing hitchhiker story and no one apparently even batted an eyelash:

    from http://www.connectionmagazine.org/archives_old/2001_05/reportfromhell.htm

    “{H}e was being pursued by four men in two cars. As he ran down foreign streets, he prayed for God’s help.

    “I got this vision of an apartment building with the number 925 on it and an elderly man next to the door up one flight of stairs. Next thing I knew, I came upon building number 925. Walking in, I found an elderly man on the right who told me to come in until my pursuers passed,” Jack recalls.

    “I can remember the apartment vividly. It was decorated with a blue sofa and chairs, and the refrigerator was well stocked. I stayed there for a while until the men looking for me had passed. When I sent my interpreter to that apartment the next day to thank the man, she couldn’t find him. The manager said the apartment had been empty for more than a year. This was just one of the many times God has spared me.””

    I just can’t get over how little publicity this is getting.

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  5. Mary said on March 22, 2004 at 6:46 pm

    I bet he’s praying his ass off for some vanishing apartment to duck into now. I can’t believe USA today hasn’t checked out this guy earlier.

    Maybe he’ll write a Jayson Blair style book for us all to not buy.

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  6. deb said on March 23, 2004 at 9:19 am

    my husband had a good point about JK’s vanishing-apartment story: an apartment in moscow would NEVER stand empty for a year. d’oh!

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  7. Jennifer said on August 14, 2004 at 2:46 pm

    I interned at USA Today during the summer of 1996. All the interns were rounded up to go listen to Jack Kelley give a speech…even then at the tender age of 19 I sensed that this guy was a huge egomaniac…in a way that was different from other newsroom hot shots.

    He had a very righteous sensibility about him, like he felt he was saving the planet with his reporting…

    I have to say it’s kind of funny watching him get his comeuppance all these years later.

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