Jack Kelley was the star reporter at USA Today for two decades, parachuting into nightmarish situations in dozens of countries and emerging with dazzling accounts of life and death. He filed daring stories about surviving a suicide bombing in Jerusalem, watching doomed Cuban refugees set sail for the United States and dozens more.
The University of Maryland graduate, who lived in suburban Washington, gave speeches for the paper each year, describing his career as an outgrowth of his Christian faith. “I have a passion for reporting the truth,” he told one audience. “It’s not a job. It’s a calling.”
He was a Pulitzer finalist in 2002.
Two years later, he was perhaps the biggest star in a series of media scandals.
Kelley, USA Today reported after months of investigation, made up nearly all or parts of 20 stories over a decade, plagiarized more than 100 quotes or passages from other publications, gave speeches that repeated those lies and then orchestrated a cover-up to try to mislead the panel investigating his work.
Kelley, then 43, resigned and later apologized in a statement, acknowledging “a number of serious mistakes that violate the values most important to me.”
He then vanished from public view. A Nexis database search shows his name has rarely appeared in print since — almost always in stories about journalistic mendacity.
It is not clear whether Kelley is working now, but he does sometimes volunteer with Free the Children, a Toronto-based nonprofit that does education and development work around the world, the agency said.
The Kelley family was part of a team that traveled to rural Kenya last year to help the charity build a school, a video on the charity’s Web site documents.
“The neat thing about coming on something like this is that we get more than we give, to learn from other people who have so little,” Jack Kelley says on camera, kneeling down in khaki shorts. “You find that they don’t complain, that they smile, and that they’re extremely humble and extremely grateful.”
He is quoted in a New Canaan, Conn., blog on Nov. 30, saying he’d like to help the charity grow: “We aim to start a chapter here in New Canaan and then thousands of other chapters across the country.”
Kelley lives with his wife, Jacki, and their young daughter in a $2 million home in New Canaan. Jacki Kelley, once an advertising executive at USA Today, is now global chief executive for Universal McCann, a media agency based in New York.
Messages left on the Kelleys’ home voice mail and at Jacki Kelley’s office were not returned. An express mail letter was returned after no one signed for three attempted deliveries.