Lies and the lying liars

Atrios and Ailes, among others, have been all over the Jack Kelley story and I haven’t had much to add — but just on the off chance that some of you may have missed it, it’s worth noting. And it is entirely possible that you may have missed it — the level of outrage over this one hasn’t remotely approached Jayson Blair levels. Which is a shame — it may not have that sexy “affirmative action” angle the right wingers like to beat into the ground, but it’s a far more egregious situation.

USA Today editors ignored repeated warnings about problems with Jack Kelley’s reporting, including from government officials, while a newsroom “virus of fear” deterred many staffers from challenging what became the worst scandal in the Gannett paper’s history, an investigative panel said yesterday.

Kelley, who has now apologized, made up parts of at least 20 stories stretching back to 1991, according to the report by three outside editors asked to investigate the former star correspondent’s work. Kelley also billed the company for thousands of dollars in payments to translators and drivers who now say they never received the cash, the panel found.

The report amounts to a stinging indictment of the culture of the nation’s top-selling newspaper, which the panel says has increasingly tried to compete with the New York Times and The Washington Post and trumpeted the globe-trotting exploits of Kelley, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, in that effort. The document’s release prompted a key managing editor to resign.

Unlike the fabrications of such young and untested journalists as The Post’s Janet Cooke in 1981, the New Republic’s Stephen Glass in 1998 and the Times’s Jayson Blair last year, Kelley, 43, was a two-decade veteran at USA Today and a management favorite whose too-perfect stories left a trail of red flags that went unheeded. As USA Today gradually transformed itself from a bland “McPaper” known mainly for short stories and flashy graphics, even Kelley, who kept parachuting into war zones and filing reports about dramatic shootings, bombings and drownings, said he felt pressure to produce scoops.

As Atrios’ readers are well aware, Kelley comes out of the World Journalism Institute, whose mandate is apparently to produce more journalists with an explicitly Christian bias:

I mentioned the issue to Mr. Olasky, who agreed the challenge was both real and big. I mentioned it also to Robert Case, one of our board members who lived then in Ellensburg, Wash., where he divided his working hours between the real estate business and teaching philosophy at Central Washington University. Would he be willing, I asked, to come to North Carolina the following summer and organize an instructional program in journalism — just to see whether anyone might be interested?

He came, and they were interested. World Journalism Institute was born. But as it emerged from its infancy over the next couple of years, WJI took on a brand new identity of its own. What I had envisioned as a narrow training opportunity for our own WORLD staff started, almost immediately, to produce young Christian journalists with a vision for the broader journalistic task among mainstream media.