Does "Star Reporter" Always Equal Accurate Reporter?
by Regan Boychuk

January 12, 2004

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Of course, it is completely legitimate for newspapers to publish eye-witness accounts of breaking news events. Nevertheless, in the interest of accuracy, those newspapers owe their readers follow up to ensure what they publish can be trusted.

The recent resignation of USA Today star reporter Jack Kelley amid allegations he falsified stories offers a poignant example. [1]

Kelley, a 2002 Pulitzer Prize finalist, is the subject an internal USA Today investigation (sparked by an anonymous accusation which has since proven false) that has been unable to confirm some of his stories. Kelley, who resigned 6 January, insists he did nothing wrong.

According to the Washington Post, even some colleagues sympathetic to Kelley describe him as something of a cowboy: A risk-taking foreign correspondent who was a favorite of management, highly-paid, and given leeway (especially when it came to quoting unnamed sources) that other reporters did not enjoy. [2]

Pressed on whether they stood by Kelley's reporting, USA Today editors said they had no plans to run any corrections at this time and were not sure whether they would allow the controversy to be covered in their pages. [3]

Naturally, such controversy raises questions about the reliability of other stories by Kelley. One report that deserves scrutiny is Kelley's 23 October 2000 dispatch from the Israeli-occupied West Bank. [4]

As clashes between Palestinians and the Israeli military raged around him, Kelley reported: "Palestinian ambulances, their horns blaring and lights flashing, begin racing toward the front lines to pick up the wounded. But before picking up an injured youth, one ambulance can be seen dropping off two buckets of rocks and a crate of bottles to be used as Molotov cocktails.

"Seconds later, another ambulance races onto a nearby hill, its horn blaring and lights flashing. But there are no youths on the hill. The driver gets out and fires two shots at the tank in a vain effort to hit the Israeli soldiers before jumping back in and driving off."

Kelley has filed stories embarrassing to both side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: His front-page 4 September 2001 article [5] quoting West Bank settlers saying it was their "Jewish duty" to "eliminate all the Muslim filth" has been confirmed by the current USA Today investigation. [6] Still, there is sufficient reason to be wary of his account of the misuse of Palestinian ambulances.

In his 23 October 2000 article, Kelley reported that there was an Israeli military cameraman on a rooftop overlooking the Palestinian-Israeli clashes -- yet there is no footage of the incident he reported. In fact, at the time of Kelley's report, the Israeli military had never provided any evidence supporting its repeated claims that the Palestinians make "cynical use" of ambulances. [7]

Just weeks before Kelley's story appeared on the front-page, however, Human Rights Watch noted "a disturbing pattern of serious violations of medical neutrality by the [Israeli military], including the repeated use of lethal force against Palestinian ambulances, medical personnel, field hospitals and clinics engaged in treating or evacuating injured civilians." [8]

Later, the Israeli human rights organization, B'Tselem, spoke of "deliberate attacks" by the Israeli military on Palestinian medical personnel which had now "reached an almost unprecedented level", comprising "an integral part of Israeli policy", and violating "one of the most fundamental principles of international humanitarian law -- the immunity of ambulances, medical personnel, and the wounded." [9]

B'Tselem strongly criticized "Israeli officials' use of baseless and unsubstantiated allegations to justify impeding medical treatment of residents of the Occupied Territories". [10]

Despite repeated claims made by the Israeli military that Palestinians use ambulances to transport weapons and explosives, with the exception of one case [11], and despite repeated requests by Physicians for Human Rights and the International Red Cross, the Israeli military has not presented any evidence to support this contention -- not even in response to petitions filed in the Israeli Supreme Court. [12]

Surely, it is a safe assumption that if serious evidence exists of the "cynical use" of Palestinian ambulances (Kelley's included), the Israeli military would not hesitate to publicly defend itself against the charge of deliberately attacking Palestinian medical personnel.

HonestReporting -- a media watch group whose raison d'Ítre is defending Israel -- often cited Jack Kelley's account of Palestinians misusing ambulances. The group, which claims 65,000 members, removed its link to Jack Kelley's article following his resignation. [13]

It is not always possible to substantiate stories before going to press. Nevertheless, in the end, it is the responsibility of news outlets to ensure that -- over the long run -- they offer their readers accurate information.

After all, even star reporters sometimes fall.

Regan Boychuk is a journalist, student, and member of Palestine Media Watch (www.pmwatch.org) living in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Other Articles by Regan Boychuk

* Arial Sharon and the "Security Fence"


[1] Howard Kurtz, "USA Today reporter resigns over probe", Washington Post, 8 January 2004, p.C1.

[2] Kurtz, "USA Today reporter resigns over probe".

[3] Howard Kurtz, "Tight-lipped editors irk USA Today staffers", Washington Post, 9 January 2004, p.C3.

[4] Jack Kelley, "West Bank street clashes now organized warfare", USA Today, 23 October 2000, p.A1.

[5] Jack Kelley, "Vigilantes take up arms, vow to expel 'Muslim filth'", USA Today, 4 September 2001, p.A1.

[6] Kurtz, "USA Today reporter resigns over probe".

[7] B'Tselem, the Israeli information center for human rights in the Occupied Territories, "Wounded in the field: Impeding medical treatment and firing at ambulances by IDF soldiers in the Occupied Territories", March 2002, p.23.

[8] Human Rights Watch, "Investigation into unlawful use of force in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Northern Israel", October 2000, Vol.12, No.3(E). See section entititled, "Disregard for and Targeting of Medical Personnel".

[9] B'Tselem, "Wounded in the field", p.27.

[10] B'Tselem, "Wounded in the field", p.27.

[11] Amos Harel, Amira Hass, and Yosef Algazy, "Bomb found in Red Crescent ambulance", Ha'aretz, 29 March 2002. It should be noted that the circumstances surrounding even this incident are far from clear cut, but Israeli military refused an independent investigation. See Palestinian Red Crecesnt Society (PRCS), "The facts around the case of PRCS medic Mr. Jibril", 12 March 2003.

[12] B'Tselem and Physicians for Human Rights - Israel, "Medical personnel harmed: The delay, abuse and humiliation of medical personnel by Israeli security forces", December 2003, p.18.

[13] Search of
www.honestreporting.com, 9 January 2004.








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