USA Today reporter stepping down

Reporter Jack Kelley, who once received a commendation from HR while reporting from Israel, is quitting his job with USA Today surrounded by controversy.

A vaguely written report in USA Today refers to questions of accuracy, an investigation by the paper, allegations but no specifics. Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post, however, elaborates on one aspect of Kelley’s trouble:

In an effort to prove that he had spoken with a human rights activist in Yugoslavia, Kelley said in an interview, he encouraged a translator who was not present during the 1999 sit-down to impersonate another translator who was there. The woman who agreed to help Kelley called the USA Today journalist assigned to investigate the matter last fall and verified Kelley’s account as if she had been there.

Among other points noted by Kurtz:

-USA Today has confirmed that Kelley was indeed outside a Jerusalem pizzaria (Sbarro’s?) when it was blown up by a suicide bomber, as Kelley claimed. This was also apparently disputed.

-Kelley once wrote a story about Jewish settlers planning and carrying out attacks on Palestinians. Many HR readers questioned the story and went so far as to ask HR to revoke Kelley’s commendation. The Kurtz article mentions this ‘scoop’ of Kelley’s, but nothing further.

-USAToday doesn’t plan to issue any corrections or retractions.

– It seems Kelley is joining Jayson Blair (former NY Times reporter, let go under similar circumstances) in another way: he’s now writing a book about it all.

UPDATE (1/13):

– In an updated piece, Wash Post’s Kurtz now notes:

On another Kelley story examined by the newspaper — a 2001 piece recounting Israeli settlers opening fire on a Palestinian taxi while shouting such comments as “Muslim filth” — USA Today said its reporter Mark Memmott “could not find anyone with first-hand knowledge of the attack.”

USA Today is also more forthcoming in today’s report on Kelley’s dismissal.