- The Washington Times - Friday, March 19, 2004

NEW YORK (AP) — USA Today has found its former star foreign correspondent Jack Kelley made up substantial portions of at least eight stories and plagiarized numerous quotes and other material from competing publications.

USA Today reported its initial findings of an investigation in a front-page story in yesterday’s editions, along with other stories enumerating Mr. Kelley’s fabrications — including an article published in 2000 in which he made up a story about a woman dying while trying to flee Cuba by boat.

“As an institution, we failed our readers by not recognizing Jack Kelley’s problems,” publisher Craig Moon said. “For that I apologize.”

A team of reporters examined more than 700 stories Mr. Kelley wrote from 1993 through 2003.

The team also found Mr. Kelley, 43, had stolen quotes or other material from competing publications, lied in speeches he delivered for USA Today and conspired to mislead the investigation into his work.

An examination of his company-owned computer unearthed scripts Mr. Kelley had written to help at least three persons mislead reporters attempting to verify his work, the newspaper said.

Mr. Kelley resigned in January after he admitted trying to deceive editors checking the veracity of some of his reporting. Suspicions later surfaced that Mr. Kelley may have also committed plagiarism, and a second panel was formed to examine the writer’s career at the paper.

Confronted with the findings of the latest investigation Thursday, Mr. Kelley denied any wrongdoing. “I feel like I’m being set up,” he told the editors.

Lisa J. Banks, a lawyer representing Mr. Kelley, declined to comment.

Mr. Kelley spent his entire 21-year career at USA Today and was five times nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, the most prestigious award in journalism.

For one of the stories that helped make him a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2001, Mr. Kelley wrote that he was an eyewitness to a suicide bombing in Jerusalem and described the carnage in graphic detail. But the investigation showed that the man Mr. Kelley described as the bomber could not have been the culprit, and his description of three decapitated victims was contradicted by police.

The newspaper also said “the evidence strongly contradicted” other published accounts by Mr. Kelley: that he spent the night with Egyptian terrorists in 1997; met a vigilante Jewish settler named Avi Shapiro in 2001; watched a Pakistani student unfold a picture of the Sears Tower and say, “This one is mine,” in 2001; interviewed the daughter of an Iraqi general in 2003; or went on a high-speed hunt for Osama bin Laden in 2003.

Hotel, phone or other records contradicted Mr. Kelley’s explanations of how he reported stories from Egypt, Russia, Chechnya, Kosovo, Yugoslavia, Cuba and Pakistan, the newspaper said.

The three former newspaper editors brought in to conduct the investigation — Bill Hilliard, Bill Kovach and John Seigenthaler — called Mr. Kelley’s conduct “a sad and shameful betrayal of public trust.”

“It’s a rough day for the paper,” said Peter Johnson, a media columnist who has worked at USA Today since 1983. “The shock is settling in here, and people are just trying to digest an unsettling report.”

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