USA Today admits its star reporter was a serial faker

USA Today laid bare Kelley’s catalogue of ‘sweeping and substantial’ sins over two inside pages

The credibility of American journalism has suffered another major blow with the disclosure by USA Today that one of its star reporters fabricated scores of stories during a 21-year career with the paper.

Jack Kelley resigned from the paper – the country’s biggest-selling daily – earlier this year after it had been disclosed that he had conspired with a translator to support a story he wrote from Bosnia.

Most of the stories he is accused of fabricating were from overseas. He is also accused of lifting quotes without attribution from other papers including the Evening Standard and Jerusalem Post.

The recent scandal of Jayson Blair, who was accused of fabricating stories for The New York Times, almost pales in comparison to the alleged misdeeds of Kelley.

USA Today, in a front-page story, accused its onetime best-known and highest-paid reporter of faking many major stories, and followed this with two whole broadsheet pages of examples.

A committee of journalists who looked into more than 100 of the 700 stories he filed from 1993 to 2003, concluded that his journalistic sins were “sweeping and substantial”.

Among them was his account of spending a night with Egyptian terrorists in 1997, a meeting with a vigilante Jewish settler in 2001, and his participation in a high-speed hunt for Osama bin Laden in 2003.

The investigators claimed that significant parts of one of his most gripping stories, an interview with a suicide bomber in Israel, were untrue.

Kelley, when confronted, has denied any wrongdoing, but his accounts of how he reported stories from Egypt, Russia, Chechnya, Kosovo, Yugoslavia, Israel, Cuba and Pakistan are contradicted, the investigators said, by hotel, phone or other records retrieved from his laptop, and by his expense accounts.

One of his stories was about a woman whom he reported had died from drowning – along with her son – while she was trying to flee from Cuba. He supported his story, which was picked up by Reader’s Digest, with a picture of the woman, who has since been found alive and well.

Following a hastily called meeting of newsroom staff at the paper’s Virginia HQ, at which the bombshell announcement was made, reporters said they were dismayed by the extent of Kelley’s fabrications.

They were also shocked by the lengths to which he went to cover up his fakery. This included asking friends to pretend to be Israeli intelligence agents and back up his reports. Other colleagues said they were disturbed that no editor had come forward to take responsibility for Kelley’s errors.

By Jeffrey Blyth in New York

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