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March 21, 2004 8:58 PM   Subscribe

Jack Kelley makes Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass look like amateurs. So how come this story isn't getting more play?
posted by soyjoy (41 comments total)

 
...including here? I mean, come on - we're talking about a guy who wrote a heartbreaking, completely made-up account of a woman drowning while trying to flee Cuba, thus endangering the welfare of the still-alive, still-in-Cuba woman in question. A guy who lied about bumping into a suicide bomber before the fatal blast. A guy who wrote scripts for friends and acquaintances to lie to USA Today in corroboration of his own lies. And much, much more. This boggles the minds of a great many journalists, but I have a feeling the public at large may be suffering from Lying-Journalist Fatigue.
posted by soyjoy at 9:00 PM on March 21, 2004


And no one cares about USA Today. It's not a player in the liberal media conglomerate.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 9:08 PM on March 21, 2004


one is a crime on its own, but this one is lost in the noise.
posted by Elim at 9:30 PM on March 21, 2004


Basically, Kelley is white and thus provides no convenient means for conservative pundits to bash affirmative action. That's what the Jason Blair thing was about anyway. I mean, anytime you have David Brooks and Bob Novak shitting themselves about "journalistic integrity" you know there's something else to it.

Kelley, on the other hand, is a good-ole fashioned white Jesus Freak, and thus useless as a target for the right-wing faux-outrage machine.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 9:38 PM on March 21, 2004


Kelley has been under suspicion for a while, but the true extent of his journalistic crimes became apparent only (I think) Friday. So it's a little premature to say it hasn't become a major story yet. These kinds of stories take a while to build.

And Glass is white. Didn't stop his story from getting major press. I actually heard some people say that the fact that he, unlike Blair, got a movie made about him, was a sign of racism. (It's really because his fabrications were so much more interesting - hard to make a good movie about pretending to be out of town while actually being in New York.)
posted by transona5 at 9:53 PM on March 21, 2004


Well, USA Today is the largest circulation daily in the country.

When are they going to learn that giving hiring preference to white evangelical Christians simply doesn't pay?
posted by Slagman at 10:00 PM on March 21, 2004


The NYT is the grand old dame of newspapers and when they have fraudulent reporting this is news. McPaper on the other hand is held to a much lower standard. I agree that this story is still building, but because of the disparity in reputations, I do not think it will ever rise to the level of the Blair debacle. I think one other thing that hurt the Times is that it has become, unfairly, the target of many conservatives willing to prey on any weakness.
posted by caddis at 10:38 PM on March 21, 2004


I've been researching it all weekend, and I think it is going to be huge. Don't want to spoil the surprise.
posted by inksyndicate at 11:55 PM on March 21, 2004


"hard to make a good movie about pretending to be out of town while actually being in New York."

Cronenberg (or Gilliam) could make a masterpiece on that simple premise
posted by matteo at 4:25 AM on March 22, 2004


"hard to make a good movie about pretending to be out of town while actually being in New York."

Home Alone 2 was a masterpiece of cinema, you elitist bastard.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 5:06 AM on March 22, 2004


Basically, Kelley is white and thus provides no convenient means for conservative pundits to bash affirmative action. That's what the Jason Blair thing was about anyway.

That's a bit disingenuous. Blair's guilty as charged, as are these two guys. I think the title of Blair's book is a blatant play on white guilt, but I think most people see through it.

Kelley, on the other hand, is a good-ole fashioned white Jesus Freak, and thus useless as a target for the right-wing faux-outrage machine.

So then he'd make a great target for the left-wing faux-outrage machine. Or if you ask me, somewhat justified outrage in both cases. Both journalists lied and decreased public trust in the media just a little bit more. That's a genuine issue. Dragging other crap into it just muddys the waters.
posted by jonmc at 6:36 AM on March 22, 2004


I also think the fact that USA Today was right on top of this and put it in the hands of an independent panel to investigate probably prevented it from snowballing. Very unlike the NYT's response to the Blair debacle.
posted by pardonyou? at 6:47 AM on March 22, 2004


I'm just trying to imagine a Cronenberg movie on journalistic ethics. There would be a lot of goo. My head hurts.

In all three cases, the large amounts of media play didn't come from the initial discovery, but rather from the facts that came out after the fact, and the fallout as everyone involved realizes the effect this had and either backs away from the mess or jumps in. That feeding frenzy should start, right onschedule, in the next week or two.

Patience, grasshopper. All the ingredients are there. Shit? Check. Fan? Check.
posted by chicobangs at 7:33 AM on March 22, 2004


If I remember correctly, the Stephen Glass story didn't receive a whole lot of ink either, at least not initially. It didn't gain the notoriety it has now until the Blair story broke, and the two became intertwined in stories about the issue of less-than-honest news-reporting.

The reason the Blair story had the impact it did was two-fold: 1) it was the NYT, which, even if most of the peasantry in the country ignore it, has a huge impact in the somewhat insular world of news-gathering organizations; and 2) There were very pointed questions about how the NYT handled their "problem." I think pardonyou? is correct in this case; USAToday has been forthcoming and on top of this story, reporting in their own paper about developments and forming the already-mentioned panel to investigate.
posted by deadcowdan at 7:34 AM on March 22, 2004


Apologies for my sentence/verb management issues this morning. Also, what pardonyou? said.
posted by chicobangs at 7:34 AM on March 22, 2004


I think strangeleftydoublethink has it right - Jayson Blair wrote for the vaunted Paper Of Record. Kelley wrote for McPaper.

But there are similar issues of management coddling scoop-producing stars in both cases that I think are being ignored. Editors should always be wary when one reporter consistently gets better quotes and details than anyone else.

And damn, go read the USAT sidebars detailing specific stories he made up. I particularly like the one where he was ordering room service in Islamabad when he was supposed to be risking life and limb in the mountains days away from the city.

And then there's this stunning sentence, about how Kelley must have lied when he said he recognized a suicide bomber's head on the floor after a Jerusalem attack:

"But Kleiman says the bomber's head and upper body flew up and got stuck in a vent above the pizzeria's ovens."


I knew Kelley vaguely and he was a terrific guy - this just blows my mind. I also had NO idea he was such a religious fanatic.
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:47 AM on March 22, 2004


It didn't gain the notoriety it has now until the Blair story broke, and the two became intertwined in stories about the issue of less-than-honest news-reporting.

Speaking of that, here's some nice exclusive coverage of the first sit-down chat between the two - just like their stuff, it's no less insightful just 'cause it isn't true...
posted by soyjoy at 8:18 AM on March 22, 2004


pardonyou is mistaken. Blair was out on his keister three days after the first plagiarism complaint, and the times' top editors
soon followed after revelations in the paper's own published investigation, which came out in a matter of weeks after Blair got the boot.
At McPaper, complaints about Kelley were made last year, and USA Today staffers denounced it as a Blair-inspired witch hunt. Why has the investigation into his work taken so long?
posted by Slagman at 8:40 AM on March 22, 2004


Why ask why? Why did the editors of the Macon Telegraph hire Khalil Abdullah, even AFTER he'd been fired from the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram? Dishonesty of any kind in a journalist should be a career-ending death sentence.
posted by Vidiot at 9:19 AM on March 22, 2004


At McPaper, complaints about Kelley were made last year

Could you cite me something that says plagairism claims were made last year? I'm not saying you're wrong, but I haven't seen anything to that effect.

Why has the investigation into his work taken so long?

The paper conducted a seven week investigation headed by three respected, non-USA Today journalists. By all accounts the Kelley claims were more difficult to verify than the Blair claims (and, after all, Blair apparently was very forthright in acknowledging his actions). And I don't think you can point to the fact that NYT editors (including Howell Raines) were terminated -- we don't yet know what the repercussions will be at USA Today (although there no doubt will be some).
posted by pardonyou? at 9:22 AM on March 22, 2004


Could you cite me something that says plagairism claims were made last year?
posted by soyjoy at 9:34 AM on March 22, 2004


Dishonesty of any kind in a journalist should be a career-ending death sentence.

Apparently not.
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:55 AM on March 22, 2004


That's a bit disingenuous. Blair's guilty as charged, as are these two guys. I think the title of Blair's book is a blatant play on white guilt, but I think most people see through it.

So then he'd make a great target for the left-wing faux-outrage machine. Or if you ask me, somewhat justified outrage in both cases. Both journalists lied and decreased public trust in the media just a little bit more. That's a genuine issue. Dragging other crap into it just muddys the waters.


jonmc:
I'm not trying to characterize either of their situations myself, just to point out the way in which they were characterized by the press. You can say that Kelley would be a good target for "left-wing faux outrage," and probably you're theoretically correct, but the fact of the matter is that one of these stories (Blair) was discusses ad nauseum and repeatedly tied to the larger issue of affirmative action by a number of real, breathing, conservative and mainstream pundits and reporters. It actually happened. Now it may be possible that liberals have the potential to somehow use the Kelley to bash evangelicals or white people (I hate 'em. They're just so....white!), but that is not actually happening.

I'm not saying that your take on shit isn't valid, jon, except for when you call my point "disengneuous." Can you dispute that A)The Jason Blair story was heavilly reported and was repeatedly tied to the issue of AA, first in conservative opinion jounrals and then later in mainstream news reportage, and B) Kelley's equal transgressions are not being reported as widely, and are also not being linked to tangential (if even remotely relevant) political issues, the pertinent interpretations of which expressly benefit the political agenda of those opinion-shapers who first made the connection?

So if your point is that liberals--like conservatives--are human beings and thus prone to bullshitting in the same way as conservatives, than your point is taken. But if you are letting that abstract truth color the way in which you perceive the matter at hand to such an extent that the actual facts don't matter, I suggest you take a deeper look into the matter or find a new rubric for fairness.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 10:12 AM on March 22, 2004


Meanwhile, Jayson Blair's book arguably slanders NYT Managing Editor Gerald Boyd by stating that his mother died of drug abuse. (scroll down.) "It didn't get fact-checked," says Blair.
posted by PrinceValium at 10:13 AM on March 22, 2004


oh, I agree, CunningLinguist, and it's sickening that Barnicle got hired. Especially when the outlet that was one of his harshest critics turns right around gives the guy a job.
posted by Vidiot at 10:18 AM on March 22, 2004


Er. "turns right around and gives the guy a job", should be.
posted by Vidiot at 10:21 AM on March 22, 2004


So if your point is that liberals--like conservatives--are human beings and thus prone to bullshitting in the same way as conservatives, than your point is taken.

That was more or less my point. I think what got me writing was the phrase "all about."

Ultimately, the Blair case was all about the fact that Jayson Blair got caught bullshitting the New York Times. But when you say that the Blair case was discussed more than the cases of the white plaigarists, and ascribe some of that to racism, you may have a point. But as others have said, Blair wrote for a far more respected paper, so that's probably a factor, too.

You could also argue that Blair, through his book, has played the race card, as well, and coming out of his mouth, that approach is disingenuous. Accusing you of disingenuousity (sp?) was a bit much on my part, I'll admit, so sorry bout that. It just seemed that you were implying that race and affirmative action was the central issue of these incidents, when it seems to me the real issue is lazy reporters filing fake stories, lazy editors publishing them, and lazy public believing them.
posted by jonmc at 10:24 AM on March 22, 2004


But when you say that the Blair case was discussed more than the cases of the white plagiarists, and ascribe some of that to racism, you may have a point.

Not to racism (well maybe, but I don't know), to the specific desire of specific writers to bash AA. What do you mean when you say "the real issue"? Certainly I agree that if Blair had not been faking news stories, it is unlikely that a bunch of journalists would have simultaneously made the same dishonest assertions about his situation, but does it matter that he was a bullshit reporter? Would things have been different if he was an incompetent black airplane mechanic or Supreme Court justice? My point is that the Blair scandal was spun into a larger and differently natured cultural event because of his race and the political predilections of important pundits, not that Blair is anything other than a dickweed.

If your contention--that the Jayson Blair story is 100% about his ethical failure as a reporter, and that it's magnitude is driven by the prominence of his employer--were true, wouldn't Judith Miller be occupying the cultural space previously inhabited by Milli Vanilli?
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 10:40 AM on March 22, 2004


Complaints about Kelley were made last year, and USA Today staffers denounced it as a Blair-inspired witch hunt. Why has the investigation into his work taken so long?

How about this: Blair had only been at the NYT for a few years. His negative performance reviews were overlooked when placing him on the national desk, but they were placed in his personnel file. When the red flags started going up, it was easy for the editors to see that this relative newbie had made far more mistakes than was typical and had received negative reviews from his superiors. In addition, not only did incredulous readers question his writing--the people he had reported on were easy to track down and quickly denied speaking with him. Also, he didn't cover his tracks very well.

Kelly had a two-decade plus track record at USA Today. He had a good relationship with the publisher. He was one of the newspaper's first reporters, one of its first star reporters, and presumably had good performance reviews. His stories were much more difficult to verify. To do so required sending reporters to Cuba, talking to people in Afghanistan, reconstructing the events of a suicide bombing. Some of his seemingly untrue, difficult to believe stories turned out to be true. Meanwhile, he worked hard to cover his tracks on the others, going as far as to give people "scripts" to back him up.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:41 AM on March 22, 2004


My point is that the Blair scandal was spun into a larger and differently natured cultural event because of his race and the political predilections of important pundits, ...

True enough. But that's politics as usual I guess, on both sides; take an event that should be important for the other reasons I previously mentioned, and see how it can be spun to one's political advantage. But, if Blair had ben white the story still woulda made the news because of the Times' prominence.
posted by jonmc at 11:03 AM on March 22, 2004


Just an aside - Jayson Blair's book has flopped, selling less than $2,000 copies. Stephen Glass's novel flopped too. There is justice in this world.
posted by orange swan at 11:13 AM on March 22, 2004


Anyway, with a nod to croutonsupafreak's excellent points about fact-checking foreign stories, the whole nyt v. mcpaper debate here is a left/right red herring. I choose to be inspired that two major newspapers (and the AP, which had a similar scandal recently, among others) have rushed to investigate and debunk their own work. I don't think the pace in either case has been out of line, given how hard it is to follow a cold trail on an old news report. I think all these news organizations deserve praise for trying to level with readers. And perhaps some will lose jobs at USA Today, here's one analysis about how the top editors probably ignored Gannett policy when it came to Kelley. (But I actually don't think the Times editors lost their jobs entirely because of Blair; there were obviously other forces at play. So the situations are not analagous.)
posted by Slagman at 6:02 PM on March 22, 2004


What makes ex-USA Today reporter/fabulist Jack Kelley worse than other disgraced journalists is that he peddled the most divisive stereotypes imaginable -- and people believed him
posted by homunculus at 8:02 PM on March 22, 2004


Hastening armageddon.
posted by Slagman at 11:26 PM on March 22, 2004


Jesus, Slagman, that is a terrifying thought.
posted by CunningLinguist at 4:22 AM on March 23, 2004


That's a good piece, homunculus, thanks. One other choice quote: "Jack Kelley's forgeries fit snugly into the preexisting grooves of people all over the world looking for coverage of evil Jews, or cute Muslim boys who turn out to be devils."

Gorenfeld is sometimes overeager to tar Kelley for ideological subject matter in articles that have not yet been (and may not be) debunked, but he does provide the helpful link to the World Journalism Institute (where Kelley was until recently listed as "Faculty"), whose mission is "to overcome the culture's efforts to eclipse God by providing a counter-thrust to the secular media." Yeah, a counter-thrust. That's one word for it.
posted by soyjoy at 7:42 AM on March 23, 2004


God can be eclipsed? I thought he was all powerful and shit.
He needs dumbasses to defend him?
posted by Slagman at 9:04 PM on March 23, 2004


Where is the sense of Caucasian solidarity, milky brother?
posted by sudama at 7:35 AM on March 24, 2004


The irrepressible Atrios titles this piece Burning Down His Pastor's House. A cheap shot, maybe, but I laughed anyway.

And then I read the story, which is definitely worth your time.
posted by soyjoy at 11:06 PM on March 27, 2004


OK, just one more to round things out:

The story that perhaps did go too far was “My Interview with Jesus Christ.” Parts of that story were untrue, though I did strike up a friendly correspondence with Mr. Christ, whom I now claim as a dear friend. Stop it. That’s a lie. And a lie is a sin. Mr. Christ told me that.
posted by soyjoy at 6:42 AM on March 31, 2004


Last one, really:

A story on Oct. 29, 1999, titled "Saudi money aiding bin Laden," contained several errors. The report, attributed to interviews with unnamed intelligence sources, stated that the Saudi royal family ordered an audit of Saudi Arabia's National Commercial Bank and its founder and former chairman, Khalid bin Mahfouz. A spokesman for Mahfouz has denied that the royal family ever ordered such an audit, and the bank has denied that any such audit was conducted.
posted by soyjoy at 7:46 AM on April 13, 2004


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