Friday, March 19, 2004

EYE WITNESS NEWS. So I'm reading bits and pieces of USA Today's account of former reporter Jack Kelley's literally incredible fabrications. It took me a while, but finally I got it: what the paper describes as "[p]erhaps the most riveting story Jack Kelley wrote" was also something that his editors had doubts about all along.

The story involved a suicide bombing that took place in Jerusalem on August 9, 2001. The deconstruction that USA Today publishes today is worth reading in full. But check out this paragraph:

Kelley could not have seen three men decapitated. He wrote in his story: "Three men, who had been eating pizza inside, were catapulted out of the chairs they had been sitting on. When they hit the ground, their heads separated from their bodies and rolled down the street." In a first draft that Kelley submitted for publication, he wrote that some of the heads rolled "with their eyes still blinking."

This is an astounding detail. No editor in his or her right mind would take it out. Except, possibly, for one reason: a suspicion that it wasn't true, that Kelley hadn't actually witnessed such a horrifying event. So what did the editors do? They removed the most compelling - and most obviously fabricated - detail, and left the rest of the story pretty much alone.

USA Today deserves credit for coming clean about Kelley. But there remains much that hasn't yet been reported about the culture that allowed him to thrive.

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