Atrios Agonistes


Power blogger Atrios wonders where is the journalistic outrage over USA Today fraudster Jack Kelley, who apparently faked tons of stories over an illustrious career (for background, see this).

Writes Atrios, with the Jayson Blair scandal in mind as a baseline:

It's just amazing how the fraudulent reporting of USA Today reporter Kelley has set off a firestorm in the media and blogging worlds. Not….

The thing about the Jasyon Blair story was that it didn't matter. Sure it was egg on face of the New York Times, but his fabrications were almost entirely harmless and trivial. Kelley's fabrications were frequently inflammatory pieces on inflammatory issues. And, while Blair's agenda was just preserving his career, Kelley possibly had a much larger one though I haven't read much analysis of his fabrications in that context.

When the Blair scandal came out there were endless ruminations about the poisonous impact of affirmative action on the newsroom, and many many people who declared solemnly that "of course" his race was a factor. People like the brothers Hack, Crazy Andy, etc…

What's their explanation for this guy, who got away with the journalistic equivalent of murder for years? We'll never know, because as a quick glance at their site shows—they don't care a bit.

While there's no doubt that the race/affirmative action angle helped to explain some of the big interest in the Blair scandal (an angle that Blair himself invoked almost immediately), I actually think The NY Times angle mattered more (including coverage by Andrew Sullivan, an outspoken critic of affirmative action and Howell Raines and the NY Times). So did the youth angle (more on that in a second).

If the Kelley story doesn't become as big a deal–and it's too soon to tell that, especially since it's still unfolding (and in a busier newscycle)–part of it is surely that USA Today isn't considered in the same league as the Times, which is the paper that most journalists love to hate and hate to love. Rick Bragg's simultaneous banishment , as well as the fall of the House of Raines, made the Blair scandal bigger news than, say, the largely ignored story of AP liar Christopher Newton.

The youth angle also made the Blair story bigger: When Ruth Shalit (last seen penning a profile in the new Details)and Stephen Glass (now a minor motion picture) were caught in their various machinations, it was big news not so much because of where they worked but because of their relative tenderfoot status. And any number of journalistic mavens ventured forth with psychobiographical analyses of those two, mostly of the "too much too soon" variety. Whether the story is girls gone wild or journalistic malfeasance, the youth angle always makes for better copy. (Though middle-aged sex-and-journalism scandals can grab column inches, too, as the widely discussed dismissal of Chi Tribune columnist Bob Greene attests).

I suspect that Kelley will get more ink in the weeks to come. The quality and quantity of the coverage may depend in part on whether he comes clean or offers up a public defense. At the very least, here's hoping that recently reinstated plagiarist Mike Barnicle–who grabbed more than a few headlines himself when he flamed out at the Boston Globe a while back–weighs in with something. If he does, just make sure to check the George Carlin Web site.