USA TODAY statement on Jack Kelley|
USA TODAY Editor Karen Jurgensen released the following statement regarding the newspaper's investigation of foreign correspondent Jack Kelley:
In recent days, USA TODAY has been a subject of controversy in other media because of the resignation of one of its best-known reporters, Jack Kelley. A foreign correspondent, Kelley was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2002.
USA TODAY had chosen to treat the issue as a confidential personnel matter, but because Kelley made it public and because some published accounts have contained inaccurate information, we are providing a summary of the central events that led editors to end Kelley's employment.
On Jan. 5, Kelley met with the newspaper's editor, Karen Jurgensen, and executive editor, Brian Gallagher. He was told that his employment was to be terminated but that he could resign during the next two days if he chose. He submitted his resignation the next day.
The reason for ending Kelley's employment was that he engaged in an elaborate deception during an investigation into his work. He admitted that he engaged in conduct designed to deceive the investigation.
Kelley's work first came under scrutiny in May after Gallagher received an anonymous note that questioned whether Kelley was fabricating or embellishing stories. The note triggered a review of Kelley's work but eventually became only a peripheral issue.
Instead, the investigation came to focus on a story not mentioned in the note. It was published on the newspaper's front page on July 14, 1999, under the headline "U.N.: Records link Serbs to war crimes." USA TODAY editors learned from one of the paper's reporters that shortly after the story was published, an official from the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague had raised doubts about the existence of a notebook at the heart of the story. At that time, the reporter did not pass the complaint on to editors.
The story reported that United Nations investigators had found a notebook substantiating that the Serb military had engaged in ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. It said the notebook had been shown to Kelley during an interview, described the notebook's contents and appearance in detail and said that it would be used at the War Crimes Tribunal.
Kelley, when questioned by Gallagher about that story, provided a detailed accounting of his reporting.
He told Gallagher that he and a translator had met with two investigators in Belgrade. The primary subject of the interview was Natasa Kandic, a well-known human rights investigator whose name was not disclosed in the 1999 story but is disclosed here because Kelley has revealed it to The Washington Post.
Kelley said that during the interview with Kandic, the second U.N. investigator brought in the notebook described in the story, which he, Kandic and the translator then discussed.
Kelley, who cooperated with and participated in the investigation into his work, then set about attempting to confirm the validity of the story. That appeared to be simply a matter of contacting Kandic and the translator to confirm what had transpired. But Kelley soon reported that he was running into trouble.
Through the summer, Kelley said that he was making phone calls to individuals in Yugoslavia, particularly Kandic, who could assist in verifying the story but that he was not connecting with them.
Most people in Kandic's office did not speak English, he said, so he had hired a woman he described as a "stringer," or freelance journalist, but she too had been unsuccessful in attempts to contact Kandic. He said she had even sent a friend to stake out the investigator's office but that he had not been able to see Kandic.
In September, Mark Memmott, a reporter and former deputy managing editor who was working on the investigation, turned his attention to the Yugoslavia story. On Sept. 3, on Memmott's first attempt to reach Kandic by telephone, he got through. Kandic told Memmott that she did not remember an interview with Kelley (though later investigation by Memmott would show she met with him at least once) and that she had never had a document matching the description of the one in the story.
On Sept. 3, Memmott told Kelley what Kandic had said. On Sept. 4, Memmott asked Kelley for the name and phone number of the translator who was with him at the interview with Kandic. Kelley said her name was Danielja Jacamovich and gave Memmott a phone number for her. She was also the person, Kelley said, whom he had hired earlier in the summer to contact Kandic.
Memmott made repeated attempts to telephone Jacamovich but never successfully completed a call. Each time, the line was either dead or he got a recording in Serbo-Croatian. He called the U.S. embassy in Belgrade and a secretary offered to check the phone number for him and to see if there was a phone listing for Jacamovich. The secretary reported that the local phone company said the number did not exist and that it had no listing for Jacamovich.
Memmott then asked Kelley if Kelley could find Jacamovich's number on his home phone records or calling card records. Memmott wanted to compare the number Kelley had given him with a number that would appear on such records, to see if Kelley might have innocently given him a wrong number.
On Sept. 9, Memmott and Gallagher met with Kelley to talk further about Kandic's assertions. Kelley's recollection of the interview then shifted. He said there had not been a second investigator there, but rather that the person who brought the notebook into the room was an office worker. His description of the person's sex shifted from male to female. He also said there had been two translators present, not one. Soon after the meeting with Memmott and Gallagher, Kelley provided the second translator's name and phone number to Memmott.
That phone number worked, though the translator's husband said she was not in Yugoslavia at the time when Memmott called the next day. He reached her on Sept. 19.
The translator said she remembered the interview. But she said Kandic had not shown Kelley any documents — though she said Kandic had discussed an officer's diary she had seen in Kosovo. That translator also said there was no other translator present at the interview.
Eight days later, Kelley made a phone call to Memmott that started a chain of events that revealed Kelley conducted a deception designed to substantiate his second account of the interview.
On Sept. 27, a Saturday, Kelley called Memmott to say that he had succeeded in getting a message to Jacamovich and that he had been told by a mutual friend that Jacamovich would call Memmott by the following Wednesday. Kelley said he had been told that Jacamovich was in the USA on business.
Three days after he told Memmott of those arrangements, Gallagher and Memmott met with Kelley again. Memmott described everything he had been told by Kandic, by others Kelley had suggested he speak with and by the translator he had been able to reach. Kelley told Memmott and Gallagher that Jacamovich would verify his story and that he thought if she did not, he would be in trouble.
On Oct. 1 and Oct. 2, a woman called Memmott and identified herself as Jacamovich. But the calls made Memmott suspicious because the woman answered critical questions before they were asked, sometimes using the same phrasing Kelley had previously used — even though she and Kelley said they had not spoken to each other in several months and never in detail about the story or interview.
Memmott was also suspicious because the woman would not provide any contact information so that he could find her again, other than to say she would be in Belgrade the next week. Her first call was traced back to an unlisted cell phone in Houston. The second was traced back to an apartment in Houston. The number was listed under a man's name. After hearing recordings of the calls, Gallagher and Jurgensen shared Memmott's concerns.
A week after the calls, Memmott went to Belgrade in search of Jacamovich and to find any other information that could help substantiate Kelley's story. Kelley had provided several names and contact information for people he said could lead Memmott to Jacamovich. At that time, those individuals told Memmott that they had not heard of her. Since then, Kelley has said he has been told by several of those people that they do recall Jacamovich.
Memmott returned to the USA on Oct. 17. Soon after, phone records and expert voice analyses confirmed that the woman who had called him on Oct. 1 and 2 was not who she claimed to be.
Beginning on Oct. 20, Memmott started to examine Kelley's expense records. That search combined with his phone records and the expert voice analyses of the recordings indicated the woman who had called Memmott was an imposter — a Russian, now living in the United States, who worked as a translator for Kelley during at least two of his trips to Russia in the 1990s. She was not with Kelley when he reported the 1999 story in Yugoslavia.
The search of phone records also showed no evidence of the calls Kelley said he had made to Yugoslavia from the office through the summer, nor do charges for the calls appear on company credit cards. Kelley told Gallagher and Memmott that he has no personal phone records showing the calls. He insisted that the records must be inaccurate.
In early November, Kelley produced pictures he said were Jacamovich, but then failed to turn them over to Gallagher and Memmott as he had promised.
Kelley's cooperation with the investigation ended on Nov. 11, when he informed Gallagher that he had retained a lawyer.
Following the Thanksgiving holiday, Kelley's lawyers were informed by USA TODAY's legal counsel of the evidence regarding the deception. On Dec. 2, Kelley met with Memmott and Gallagher. He was given a letter that summarized the evidence and was told he needed to explain his actions.
Kelley asked for two weeks to conduct his own investigation. He was given the time.
During that time, Kelley interviewed a former U.N. official who had been in Kosovo in 1999. On Dec. 15, that woman told USA TODAY that a document seen and photographed by other media in 1999 could be the Yugoslav Army order Kelley reported he saw in the notebook. But the woman was not at the 1999 interview with Kandic. She had no direct knowledge of what was said or done at that interview. She conceded that the army order reported by other media did not say exactly what Kelley's story had reported. She said a bad translator could have given Kelley wrong information about the document's contents.
The former U.N. official also said that Kelley's story was correct in reporting that a massacre had taken place in the Kosovo village and that the Serb military likely had a hand in the atrocity. Those facts have never been in dispute.
About this same time, nearly three months after setting the deception in motion, and after being confronted with the facts of the deception, Kelley admitted his actions in a conversation he initiated with USA TODAY Publisher Craig Moon. Kelley also told Moon that the photographs he had shown Memmott and Gallagher were of the Russian woman, not of Jacamovich.
On Dec. 16, Kelley admitted his actions to Memmott and Gallagher. He said that he had felt pressured by them to find Jacamovich and that he had accepted the Russian woman's offer to pose as her. He also said he had long felt that the investigation of him was not fair or balanced.
The newspaper disputes that contention. Editors went to great lengths to make sure the investigation was both fair and secret. Kelley specifically approved the choice of both Gallagher and Memmott as investigators. He and Gallagher mutually agreed on who would be questioned and who would not. He repeatedly expressed satisfaction with the investigation. Additionally, he cooperated with the investigation until early November.
It was clear that Kelley's employment at USA TODAY could not continue. By engaging in a deception, he violated the first responsibility of any journalist: to tell the truth. He was given a choice of how to depart at the Jan. 5 meeting. Kelley resigned, apologizing for his deception, insisting the story was accurate and wishing the paper well. Jurgensen, accepting the resignation, said she could not accept his conclusions but wished him well.
Still to be resolved was what the newspaper would do about correcting its record.
USA TODAY policy requires correcting or clarifying stories that are incorrect or misleading. In this case, the investigation was unable to resolve what had actually occurred.
Given Kelley's actions, the editors were concerned about the story's accuracy. But at the same time, they could not say with certainty what happened in the interview. Since stating the facts is the central element of any correction or clarification, it was concluded that no correction or clarification could be published.
As to other stories examined during the investigation, the editors either concluded they were accurate or that the passage of time and the difficulty of retracing events in distant war-torn countries made verification impossible.