I often wonder how Michael Kelly would write about the events of today. As Elbert Hubbard (no, not Charles de Gaulle) observed, the cemeteries are full of people that the world thought indispensable. Yet, Kelly's life and work undermined the point of that adage: Those of us who were his contemporaries still find ourselves wondering what he'd have to say about some politician or another - and about the interminable wars being fought by American soldiers halfway around the world.
Michael believed in the morality and efficacy of the U.S. intervention in Iraq. Would he still? I don't know. I do know that he hated bullies and tyranny, and never understood those who didn't.
"I understand why some dislike the idea, and fear the ramifications of, America as a liberator," he wrote from Kuwait in February of 2003. "But I do not understand why they do not see that anything is better than life with your face under the boot. And that any rescue of a people under the boot (be they Afghan, Kuwaiti, or Iraqi) is something to be desired. Even if the rescue is less than perfectly realized. Even if the rescuer is a great, over-muscled, bossy, selfish oaf. Or would you, for yourself, choose the boot?"
That was his passionate view, well-argued. But Michael was neither rigid, nor shy about admitting when he'd misjudged. In 1998, as peace was taking root in Northern Ireland, Michael recalled how he'd been caustically skeptical of Bill Clinton's decision to grant a visa to Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and to the appointment of George Mitchell as a special envoy. "Well," he wrote cheerfully, "at least I was consistent: wrong in every regard."
But Kelly was right far more often than he was wrong, and this was true because his reporting was not freighted with partisanship, inflexible ideology, or a desire to curry favor with power-brokers. His editing and his prose were pure magic, and performed happily, which is why those who had the pleasure of working alongside this merry warrior miss him still.
The annual Michael Kelly Award, sponsored and administered by the Atlantic Media Company, recognizes journalists who exhibit Kelly's "fearless pursuit and expression of truth."
The prize is a generous one, so there are lots of superb entries. Not all can win, but most of those submissions are a gift to the judges, and to the rest of us in journalism. They serve as a reminder that even in these troubled economic times - especially challenging for media businesses -- brave reporters still find the wherewithal to go where they are needed to try and discern the truth.
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