Reporter Faked Stories

USA Today Says Reporter Faked Stories

USA Today said Friday that an examination of the work of journalist Jack Kelley found strong evidence that the newspaper’s former star foreign correspondent had fabricated substantial portions of at least eight major stories.
After spending seven weeks closely examining Kelley’s work, a team of journalists also found that Kelley had lifted 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 computer unearthed scripts Kelley had written to help at least three people mislead reporters attempting to verify his work, the newspaper said.

For a story in 2000, the newspaper said, Kelley used a snapshot he took of a Cuban hotel worker to authenticate a tale he made up about a woman who died fleeing Cuba by boat. The woman in the published photo never fled by boat, and a USA Today reporter located her alive this month, the newspaper said.


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, 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 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 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.

I suppose this sort of thing is hard to stop–the editor reads dozens of stories and pretty much has to presume the integrity of their reporters. But it is rather amazing how many of these stories there are.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. pennywit says:

    Here’s the big problem: Your average editor doesn’t go through all the steps on every story. If you cross-checked every story with a reporter’s expense reports and called sources to verify every quote, you wouldn’t be able to put out a newspaper.


  2. It’s nauseating, though.