I didn’t know him at all. I only talked to him on the phone a couple times during the Lewinsky scandal. But if he wasn’t the journalist I admired most in Washington, he had to be close. Virtually, overnight he made The Atlantic and The New Republic amazing, must-read magazines. In college, I read his war reportage from the first Gulf War religiously.
Howard Kurtz’ obit says Kelly was a conservative and I suppose that’s right. But I never really saw him as one. Rather, I always perceived him as an old style blue collar Democrat whose B.S. detector pushed him to the right on specific issues. Whatever, his columns were tough as nails, but he always explained where he was coming from. In that I’ve always seen him as a role model — there’s nothing wrong with hitting the other guy hard as long as you provide a rationale for doing so and are willing to take your lumps in return. But Kelly was also an intellectually gifted man with a profound sense of decency, or at least that’s the impression I always got from his work.
Of course, Kelly is not the only American to die in Iraq and the fact that Kelly’s death is so heartbreaking for many of us in the journalism business is a sobering reminder, for me at least, of the real pain caused by every death in this war. Without taking anything away from the reality of those tragedies, I find the loss of Michael Kelly particularly painful because while I consider everybody in uniform to be a hero, Kelly was a real hero of mine. He was one of the really good guys, he believed in the rightness of what America is doing and in the goodness of America in general and he wasn’t afraid to say so. His passing is a terrible, terrible loss.