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Monday, April 14, 2003
 
Michael Kelly Mystery Solved

Roger Ailes may have discovered the key to the Big Mystery of Michael Kelly: the reason this brilliant journalist, skilled and diplomatic editor, loving husband and father, and all-around nice guy, was such a screamingly oblivious partisan wad whenever he put his Kolumnist Kap on. Why was it? To get in with the Kool Kidz, of course!

While writing for The Times' magazine in the early '90s, he concluded that the new Democratic president and his wife, still in the glow of their triumph, were morally bankrupt, and he excoriated each of them in blistering profiles. To see those audacious pieces in The Times -- The Times! -- back then was to be gobstruck. Who is this Michael Kelly? It was the question people asked over and over as he moved from place to place. He never stayed long, and sometimes departed under less-than-pleasant circumstances, having alienated those who signed his checks. He loved his friends, but he treasured his enemies.

He drove people crazy. In his Washington Post columns, he settled into a style one might call the scorched-earth polemic, in which he made it clear that anyone who disagreed with him on the subject at hand was not just wrong, not just misguided, but deeply, irredeemably corrupt. Yet he had a mild, tolerant personality, and his own political views were more complicated and interesting than he ever let on in those columns. I know, from countless liquid conversations in the Madison Hotel bar, that his political pantheon included such names as Roosevelt and Moynihan and that some of his views had a decidedly old-liberal cast. But he mostly kept those ideas to himself, didn't take on those issues or use them to modulate his fierce public persona. Why? Because he didn't want to be just another media smoothie, one of those who clip and trim their arguments in order to remain in the club.


So, basically, he wrote things he didn't believe were true to make himself look like an iconoclast. He succeeded brilliantly. It's kind of a pity, though, that everyone thought he was serious. It's regrettable that people read his barking palaver and, given the source, concluded that pursuit of the Clinton witch-hunt was a reasonable thing to do with the time and resources of the federal government. It's just too darn bad that the 2000 election took place under the cloud of Kelly's venomous "hatred" of Al Gore and his "worship" of GW Bush (in his featured column in the United States capital city's paper of record, no less). It's a goddamn shame that there were important things at stake, things like war, constitutional rights, medical care for the sick, the health of the environment, and, uh, the economic viability of the middle and lower classes in this country.

Anyone who believed a word of his columns was being sold down the river so that Saint Frickin' Michael Kelly could look good. If that isn't journalism, I don't know what is. Thanks a lot, Mike. Rest in peace, person considered as having compromised principles for personal gain.