A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists


By Quill

USA Today questions reporter’s stories

USA Today correspondent Jack Kelley, an award-winning international journalist who risked his life covering war zones around the world, resigned Jan. 6 after the paper’s top editors questioned whether some of his stories had been fabricated.

Kelley had been under scrutiny since June when a letter, written anonymously, accused him of falsifying stories. USA Today colleague Mark Memmott was assigned to try to verify Kelley’s work, sources familiar with the paper’s internal investigation told The Washington Post.

Kelley insisted that his reporting had been accurate. “Recent allegations were raised in the form of an anonymous letter, but they were proven to be false, as evidenced by the fact that no retraction or correction has been published,” he told The Post’s Howard Kurtz.

Kelley submitted his resignation, however, because he believed the paper’s atmosphere was too hostile for him to continue, he told colleagues at USA Today. However, he later admitted to The Post that he “panicked and used poor judgment” during the probe and had fabricated a source during a 1999 interview in war-torn Kosovo.

The article in question involved a 1999 story about a human rights activist in Yugoslavia who, Kelley wrote, showed him a diary in which a Yugoslav soldier noted that he had been ordered to “ethnically cleanse” a village in Kosovo. The woman in question told USA Today that she had done many interviews but did not recall speaking to Kelley, sources told Kurtz. Kelley also told Kurtz that he encouraged a translator who was not present during the sit-down interview to impersonate another translator who had been present.

After initial questioning about four of Kelley’s articles, USA Today Editor Karen Jurgensen said the paper had serious concerns about others, and would look into those as well.

Ad reps charged with overcharging U.S.

Two former executives from the reputable advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather were charged Jan. 6 with over-billing the federal government for an anti-drug media campaign, federal prosecutors said.

Senior partner and director of finance Thomas Early resigned from the Manhattan-based ad agency soon after the indictments were announced. Early was indicted alongside Shona Seifert, a former Ogilvy senior partner and executive group director.

Both were charged in an indictment in Manhattan federal court with participating in a scheme to defraud the government, according to a statement by David Kelley, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Newsday reported that both were charged with inflating billing costs related to a $137 million yearly media campaign commissioned by the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

An Ogilvy statement said Early quit after the indictments were announced “in order to devote his full energies to obtaining a full vindication in this matter.”

Ogilvy spokesman Paul Clark told Reuters that the ad agency was aware Early and Seifert were under investigation and had been cooperating with the probe over the past two years.

Tech columnist settles over firing

The San Francisco Chronicle settled with its former technology columnist Henry Norr on Jan. 5 over the paper’s dismissal over Norr in April 2003, after he was among several protestors arrested during a rally held against the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Terms of the settlement were private.

While agreeing to the terms, Norr said in a story printed in The Chronicle: “Because I didn’t violate the ethics policy The Chronicle had in place at the time, it is clear I was fired because of my political views – my opposition to the war in Iraq and Israel’s occupation of Palestine. That is unfair, and it is a clear violation of California and San Francisco law, not to mention basic democratic principles. I think I’m entitled to my job back, and my politics wouldn’t prevent me from covering technology effectively in the future, any more than they did in the past.”

In the same story, Chronicle Managing Editor Robert J. Rosenthal denied the newspaper broke any laws or violated any rules.

“The issue here was never about personal political beliefs, but rather about The Chronicle’s commitment to its readers to serve as a trustworthy and objective news source. To that end, the paper requires its journalists to abide by an ethical code that includes the avoidance of the appearance of a conflict in the ability to report events without bias.”

CNBC restricts employees’ stock buys

Business-oriented cable network CNBC, the NBC spinoff owned by General Electric, established new restrictions in January on the trading of stocks and bonds by its employees and their immediate relatives.

In doing so, the broadcast network took one of the hardest lines ever to head off financial conflicts of interest in the media industry.

The managers and news staff of CNBC, along with their spouses and dependents, no longer will be allowed to own individual securities other than those of their employers.

All other full-time employees of the network, including those who apply makeup to anchors and guests, will be able to keep any securities they own but are not allowed to buy any more.

Sports columnist quits over false resume

A veteran sportswriter for The New York Times resigned in January from The Indianapolis Star after it was discovered he lied on his application about graduating from the University of Delaware.

Michael Freeman spent the past 11 years covering the NFL and NBA and was about to start his new job as a sports columnist for the Indianapolis newspaper on Jan. 5. But after stating he had graduated from Delaware on the job application, a tipster had apparently called the newspaper and said Freeman had not graduated, Star Editor Dennis B. Ryerson told the New York Post.

The paper investigated and found that Freeman had not graduated, prompting Freeman to abruptly resign.

In a statement published in The Star, Freeman said he attended the university for four years but did not graduate.

“These were lies,” Freeman said in the statement. “This was a terrible and unforgivable manipulation of the facts.”

Freeman tried to quell the idea that another Jayson Blair incident at The Times was unfolding and persisted that he had not lied in his tenure with The Times or any other time in his career.

A Times spokeswoman told the Post that they had been aware of Freeman’s academic standing when he was hired in November 2002.

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