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Atlantic Monthly editor-at-large Michael Kelly killed in Iraq crash

By MICHAEL TACKETT | CHICAGO TRIBUNE Published: April 5, 2003

WASHINGTON — Michael Kelly, editor-at-large of The Atlantic Monthly, died Thursday night in a Humvee accident between the Karbala Gap and Baghdad, the first American journalist killed in the conflict.

Kelly, 46, died along with a U.S. soldier in the Humvee when it went into a canal. Details of the accident were sketchy. Kelly was an embedded reporter with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, portions of which helped to take over Baghdad's airport Friday.

His death brought condolences from the White House, the Pentagon and the journalism community. President Bush "expresses his sorrow and his condolences to the Kelly family," White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said.

Four foreign journalists also have died while covering the conflict, but none was part of the embedding program. Victoria Clarke, the top Pentagon spokeswoman, praised Kelly at the opening of her news briefing Friday as a journalist who died "trying to tell the very important story" of the war.

"Mike was just a phenomenal journalist, with an enthusiasm for his work that was surpassed only by his passion for his family," Clarke said.

Kelly had covered the first Persian Gulf War as a freelance journalist and wrote a book about the conflict titled "A Martyr's Day." In an interview last month with ABC News, Kelly downplayed the dangers of the assignment.

"There is some element of danger, but you're surrounded by an Army, literally, who is going to try very hard to keep you out of danger," he said.

The unprecedented access the Pentagon has granted some 600 journalists through its embedding program has brought the war home in remarkable ways. Aided by the technology that delivers real-time transmissions, reporters can now file video and other electronic dispatches from the battlefield even as the fighting rages.

But that same access also carries perils.

Kelly had captured some of that mix of danger and excitement in his columns from the war zone that he wrote for The Washington Post.

His last Post column was published Thursday, when he described his ride along with an Army task force as it took over a bridge that spanned the Euphrates River.

"On the western side of the bridge, Lt. Col. Ernest `Rock' Marcone, commander of Task Force 3-69, stood in the sand by the side of the road, smoking a cigar and drinking a cup of coffee," Kelly wrote. "Marcone's soldiers say he deeply likes to win, and he seemed quietly happy."

Kelly started his career as a reporter for The Cincinnati Post and The Baltimore Sun before working as a freelance writer and covering the gulf war. He was hired as a reporter in the Washington bureau of The New York Times, covering the 1992 presidential campaign. Then he wrote the New Yorker's Letter from Washington column from 1994 to 1996.

Kelly was named editor of the opinion magazine The New Republic in 1996. There he was a consistent and sometimes acerbic critic of President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore. He was fired from that job by the magazine's owner, Martin Peretz, a close friend of Gore.

In 1998, Kelly was named editor of the National Journal, a Washington-based monthly publication that focuses on lobbying and government. He also wrote a column for the magazine.

When the owner of the National Journal, David Bradley, bought The Atlantic Monthly, he named Kelly its editor. Kelly was praised for reinvigorating that venerable monthly. But in addition to each editing posting, Kelly also retained a writing portfolio with a column, including one that was syndicated by the Post.

It was that fondness of writing that led him last September to take an editor-at-large sinecure at the magazine.

"Mike Kelly was a loyal and warm friend, a passionate and courageous advocate, an extraordinary reporter and editor and above all a profoundly good and generous man," said Cullen Murphy, managing editor of The Atlantic Monthly. "You didn't need to know Mike for long to understand that you could stake your life on all those qualities."

A native of Washington, he was the son of two journalist parents, Thomas Kelly and Marguerite Kelly. Kelly is survived by his wife, Madelyn, and two sons, Tom, 6, and Jack, 3.


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