Editors at USA Today now say they forced former star reporter Jack Kelleyto resign after he deceived them during an internal inquiry into whether hehad fabricated some of his high-profile reports from abroad.
Last September, Mark Memmott, the senior reporter assigned to reviewKelley's work, grew suspicious of Kelley's account of an interview that servedas the basis of a front-page story in July 1999, according to the newspaper.The high-impact story provided seemingly clear-cut evidence that formerYugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic had ordered ethnic cleansing - thestrongest connection yet uncovered.
In the wake of anonymous allegations lodged against Kelley last spring by afellow reporter, the newspaper hired a private investigator to determinewhether the woman presented by Kelley as the translator for a key interviewhad actually participated in it.
In a telephone interview with Memmott, the woman backed Kelley's version ofthe article. But the investigator was able to prove that she was not theactual translator, according to the newspaper's accouanty in today's editions.The newspaper had intended to run a story explaining the inquiry yesterday,but it was held late Sunday evening, according to one USA Today journalistknowledgeable about the process.
Kelley, who resigned last week, did not return several calls seekingcomment. In an interview with The Washington Post published on Sunday, Kelleysaid he had "panicked" by allowing a different translator - on her owninitiative - to pose as the one involved in the contested story. He told thePost that he voluntarily revealed his mistake.
But USA Today's editors confronted him well before his confession, theformer colleagues told The Sun. And these former colleagues say the newspaperconcluded that he had put the translator up to the trick.
Kelley nonetheless stood by his stories and told the Post that the inquirywas a "witch hunt."
USA Today issued a statement to accompany its article today, in which itsaid Kelley's public comments had prompted its disclosure. "By engaging in adeception, he violated the first responsibility of any journalist: to thetruth," the statement said. However, the newspaper said its investigation wasunable to resolve whether the articles by Kelley under review were incorrector misleading. The paper said the inquiry has been ended.
Several of Kelley's former colleagues said his work had been questionedinternally several times even before the anonymous complaint. In one case, asThe Sun reported last week, an editor and reporter for USA Today refused touse quotations from unnamed sources provided by Kelley for a front-pageFebruary 2002 story about the fruitless search by U.S.-led troops for Osama bin Laden. The two journalists could not verify that two of the sources citedby Kelley actually existed, according to colleagues.
Based in suburban Virginia, USA Today has the highest circulation of anydaily newspaper in the country. It relied on Kelley to report from many of theworld's most dangerous regions, and he is the paper's sole correspondent to bea finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for his work at the paper.
Kelley is a 1982 University of Maryland graduate who joined the paper rightout of school, before its first edition was published. His wife, Jacki Kelley,is USA Today's senior vice president for advertising.
At staff meetings held last Thursday, reporters challenged Editor KarenJurgensen and other senior editors about the lack of any public accountingbeing given for his reporting, which has been under fire.
And some questioned why the internal inquiry had taken such a severe turnif his reporting did not need to be corrected.
Yesterday evening, spokesman Steven Anderson said the Gannett Co. newspaperwas still not in a position to correct any stories "at this moment in time,"but would not specifically say whether USA Today would vouch for the reportingthat was published under Kelley's byline.