April 04, 2003
Noonan Remembers Kelly
Wall Street Journal contributing editor Peggy Noonan pays tribute to Michael Kelly:
The death of Michael Kelly is a sin against the order of the world. He was a young man on his way to becoming a great man. He was going to be one of the great editors of his time, and at the age of 46 he was already one of its great journalists. And one's first thought about him, after saying the obvious--that he wrote like a dream, that he was a great reporter with great eyes, that he was a keen judge of what is news and what should be news--is this. He was an independent man. He had an indignant independence that was beauty to behold. He knew what he thought and why, and he announced it in his columns and essays with wit and anger.
"Independent." That word perfectly defines Michael Kelly.
In reporting Kelly's death today, the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz wrote that "Kelly was a caustic conservative who was merciless in his criticism of Bill Clinton and Al Gore ..." Such a characterzation betrays an ignorance of Kelly's career and suggests that he had a partisan agenda. Kurtz apparently believes that only a "caustic conservative" would take exception to the Clinton Administration's policies and ethics. The fact is, Kelly had no ideological axe to grind; his only agenda was the truth.
Kelly's coworkers and friends understood him better than Howard Kurtz. Noonan relates a conversation she had with one of his close friends:
She said, "He was brave. And he was a warrior. He would take on anything if he believed it was right."
You mean he was willing to pay a price for where he stood? I asked.
"Yes. He refused to be part of the conventional wisdom. He was never part of the pack." She paused. "That's what drove people crazy, that they couldn't classify him. But he was willing not to be liked."
Later in her column, Noonan puts Kelly's life and career in the proper perspective:
I think that when excellence enters the world--when an individual brings his excellence into the world--it is like a deep love being born between two people for the first time. It goes into the world and adds to the sum total of good in it. It inspires, and is moving in a way that cannot always be explained or understood. It adds to.
That's what Michael Kelly's career did: It added to.
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