Panel to Probe Ex-USA Today Reporter

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By: Seth Sutel, AP Business Writer

(AP) USA Today named three prominent journalism figures to a panel Thursday to review the work of Jack Kelley, a senior foreign correspondent who resigned under pressure earlier this month amid concerns over his reporting.

USA Today Publisher Craig Moon said in an announcement to the newspaper’s staff that the panel would be led by John Seigenthaler, a former editor and publisher of The Tennessean in Nashville who was also the founding editorial director of USA Today. He left USA Today in 1991.

Seigenthaler will be joined on the panel by Bill Kovach, chairman of the Committee of Concerned Journalists, and William Hilliard, former editor of The Oregonian in Portland. Kovach is also a former curator of the Nieman Fellowships at Harvard University and a former chief of the Washington bureau for The New York Times.

The panel, which will report directly to Moon, will investigate all of Kelley’s work since he joined the paper at its launch in 1982. They will be assisted as needed by reporters and researchers from USA Today.

Newspaper spokesman Steven Anderson said the panel has no set timetable for reporting its findings. Moon and USA Today’s editor, Karen Jurgensen, declined to comment beyond Moon’s short statement to the staff.

Moon’s statement quoted Seigenthaler as saying: “My colleagues and I hope and expect an extensive and expeditious examination of the facts surrounding this controversy will serve USA Today, its professional staff of journalists and its 5-million-plus readers.”

Seigenthaler couldn’t be reached for further comment.

USA Today had already conducted an internal review into Kelley’s work beginning last spring after Executive Editor Brian Gallagher received an anonymous note questioning whether Kelley, a wide-traveling foreign correspondent, was fabricating or embellishing stories.

The paper found that Kelley tried to deceive the internal investigation into a story he wrote from Yugoslavia in 1999, and he was forced to resign. However, in the days since he stepped down Jan. 6, some similarities were found between another story he wrote and one published earlier in The Washington Post.

Jurgensen expressed concerns about those similarities, and she and Moon said in a statement printed in the paper that enough new concerns had been raised about Kelley’s work that the paper would launch a new, independent probe to completely vet all of Kelley’s work during his 21-year career there.

Kelley has stood by his work, and his lawyers have said he did not plagiarize from The Washington Post article.

The first concerns were raised about Kelley’s work just as a scandal was erupting at The New York Times over the reporting of Jayson Blair, who was forced to resign after it was discovered that he fabricated material or committed plagiarism in dozens of stories. The Blair scandal ultimately led to the resignations of the Times’ executive editor and managing editor.

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