Jack Kelley Urged to Pursue Counseling
Jack Kelley's Christian journalist friends in Washington, D.C., are confronting the discredited star reporter formerly with USA Today in hopes of getting him to acknowledge publicly that he cannot vouch for the reliability of his reporting.
Several journalists contacted by Christianity Today say that Kelley, 43, seems to confuse what was fabricated and what was true in his reporting and they suggested to him that he seek professional counseling.
Journalist David Aikman, a close friend of Kelley's, told CT, Â "Kelley is shocked by USA Today's exposé and [he] should take time off to piece together his life." However, Aikman himself declined to characterize Kelley's reporting as fraudulent. Kelley would not speak to CT on the record. Kelley's Christian colleagues have responded personally to him concerning the preliminary report on Kelley's reporting that USA Today released a week ago. Their dilemma is how to support Kelley without losing their commitment to the truth.
Widespread deception alleged
Earlier this year, USA Today created a special investigative team to examine Kelley's stories since 1993. In their initial report, they found that Kelley had fabrications in at least eight major stories, plagiarized almost two dozen quotes or other materials from competing publications, and prepared scripts for several individuals posing as "sources" to mislead the investigators.
According to USA Today, Kelley during a discussion session at a convention of the Evangelical Press Association concocted a story about how he had taken a photo for his story of a young woman who had drowned at sea while fleeing Cuba. The account was different from other stories that he told about the origins of the picture, and in fact, the newspaper says that the woman never was a refugee on a boat that sank, but she is alive and well in the United States as a legal immigrant. A USA Today reporter called the story "a lie from start to finish." But Kelley told the paper, "I saw it with my own eyes. Honest to God."
The paper also alleged that Kelley lied in his speeches, notably to the annual meeting at the Evangelical Press Association in 2000. For years, leading evangelicals hailed Kelley as a role model to student journalists.
A team of five reporters, an editor, and a prestigious panel of veteran journalists reviewed about 720 stories written by Kelley from 1993 through 2003. They re-interviewed sources, compared travel vouchers with Kelley's claims of the location of his stories, and searched his computer. The editors spent more than 20 hours with Kelley.
Kelley told friends up to the moment of the paper's announcement that he thought he was convincing the editors of his innocence. Wesley Pippert, head of the prestigious University of Missouri journalism program in Washington, says, "Jack was still holding out hope that he would be vindicated."
In fact, the high-powered panel, John Siegenthaler, Bill Kovach and Bill Hilliard, concluded that Kelley's conduct was "a sad and shameful betrayal of public trust." Alex Jones, director of the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University, told Editor and Publisher that Kelley's transgressions were a "crime."
Kelley given benefit of doubt
In the wake of Kelley's January resignation, Aikman stood by Kelley through the initial flurry of charges of fraudulent reporting, calling USA Today's methods "like an old-fashioned witch-hunt." In a commentary for the Salem radio network, Aikman complained of USA Today's "lynch mob," and suggested that the paper was attacking him because of Kelley's outspoken religious beliefs.