Things Worth Fighting For: Collected Writings


he collected articles and columns of Michael Kelly, award-winning reporter, war correspondent, columnist, and editor, whose passion for the good story and whose candor and wit made him one of the foremost journalists of our time.

His career reflected myriad colors: he wrote for a large variety of publications, covering a multitude of topics-political, international, and personal-with singular insight, passion, and wit. This collection of his ...
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he collected articles and columns of Michael Kelly, award-winning reporter, war correspondent, columnist, and editor, whose passion for the good story and whose candor and wit made him one of the foremost journalists of our time.

His career reflected myriad colors: he wrote for a large variety of publications, covering a multitude of topics-political, international, and personal-with singular insight, passion, and wit. This collection of his most memorable magazine and newspaper stories and columns-drawn from the Washington Post, New York Times, The New Yorker, The New Republic, and other publications-puts on full display the dazzling panoply of his gifts: for physical description and scene setting; for telling detail, brilliant simile, and satirical insight; for prose that is at once mathematically precise and lyrical.

Here are the searing portraits of Ted Kennedy, Jesse Jackson, H. Ross Perot, and other seminal political figures of our time that won Kelly national attention. Here are the stunning dispatches from the first Gulf War that earned him the National Magazine Award for reporting and burnished his journalistic legend. Here are the fierce columns and landmark cover stories that raised disturbing questions about Bill Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the deeply incestuous relationship between Washington, D.C.'s political and media cultures. And here are the loving family portraits and hilarious social commentaries.

Things Worth Fighting For represents the body of work of a journalist who demonstrated time and again a surpassing talent for penetrating to the heart of the matter, for advancing far beyond the headlines and surface appearances of people and events to find their true meanings, for getting the story other writers missed and telling it with a verve few other writers could match.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Atlantic Monthly editor Kelly, who covered Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Arafat's return to Gaza in 1994, and Bosnia in 1995, was killed in the Iraq war in April 2003. Although he'd considered himself a dove in the Vietnam years, "I am certainly now a hawk," he declared in 2002, his war coverage having convinced him "of the moral imperative, sometimes, for war." "There are things worth dying for, and killing for," as "every twelve-year-old" in Bosnia already knows. While Kelly's war reportage dominates this collection of his columns (mostly published in the Washington Post, the New Yorker and the New Republic in the 1990s), the volume also covers domestic culture and politics. Kelly's signature format was the character (or lack of character) sketch, where he'd reduce larger-than-life politicians to a decidedly human scale. Jesse Jackson "jets around the world as secretary of his own state of mind." Ross Perot was America's "first fusion-paranoia candidate for the presidency." When Bob Dole makes a speech, his phrases interrupt each other "like a call-waiting system gone awry." Beyond mere Beltway-insider cleverness, Kelly argued for a return to core American values like courage, honesty and love of country. We can't go back to being "square"-it's quite as impossible as "revirginizing"-but being patriotic and conservative could be cool again, Kelly suggests. The book's strength lies in the impact of having Kelly's war essays in one place, in chronological order, giving them a power they didn't have when sprinkled weekly in the press. (On sale Mar. 29) Forecast: The publisher plans publication events in Boston and New York, and national advertising, but without Kelly to promote the book, sales may be less than hoped for. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
"Michael Kelly, the editor at large of The Atlantic Monthly and for three years its editor in chief, was killed on the outskirts of Baghdad while covering the Iraq war as a correspondent for this magazine." So began the obituary for Kelly in the June 2003 issue of the Atlantic. What we cannot know, of course, is the full effect his loss will have on American journalism. His dispatches from Desert Storm, for example, compiled under the title Martyr's Day, immediately joined the ranks of classic war reporting. His analyses were cogent, trenchant, and, interestingly, conservative. This posthumous collection of columns, to be released on the first anniversary of Kelly's death, originally appeared in the Atlantic and various newspapers. The columns display not only expansive interests (which ranged from the Middle East and presidential politics to the national diet) but also a journalistic eye that encompassed telling details usually overlooked by other reporters. Nine days after 9/11, Kelly remarked, "Life goes on, and life is good." Such optimism certainly undergirds these pieces. Recommended for public and academic libraries.-Ari Sigal, Catawba Valley Community Coll. Lib., Hickory, NC Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A splendid collection of newspaper and magazine pieces by the late Kelly (Martyr's Day, 1993), the first "embedded journalist" to die in the latest Iraq war. Kelly, 46 at the time of his death in April 2003, was no stranger to action; famously, he scampered off to Iraq as a freelance writer in the first Gulf War after a New Republic editor issued a challenge, "We'll use your stuff if you can be in Baghdad when the bombs drop." His reports from the Desert Storm front are jarring and unglamorous: in one of them, he remarks, "The days of delusion are dead in Baghdad. The city has fatally discovered the obvious: a contest between a third world semipower fighting World War II and a first world superpower fighting World War III is no contest at all." Everyone in the city knew this, it appears, but Saddam Hussein and his closest aides, who, Kelly adds, went on speechifying about how the Allies' "defeat will be certain" until the bitter end. And that end was bitter indeed; one of Kelly's reports describes a Kuwaiti man moving carefully from body to body in a field full of dead Iraqis, spitting in the face of each, then "heading up the road to spit on the next of the waiting dead." Kelly's reports on the walking wounded and the strangely undead are just as good, such as his celebrated (and in some circles infamous) portrait of Sen. Edward Kennedy ("The skin has gone from red roses to gin blossoms. . . . The Chiclet teeth are the color of old piano keys"), his profile of political fixer David Gergen, and his wonderful account of Bob Dole's last stand, when, battling Bill Clinton for the presidency in 1996, he "waged what one senior campaign official called 'a renegade campaign,' running as muchagainst his own operation as against Clinton." Against these highlights, some of Kelly's curmudgeonly, conservative cultural pieces pale. But the highlights are brilliant indeed, showing that American journalism lost much with Kelly's passing.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781615605675
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 4/28/2005
  • Pages: 448
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Kelly was a war correspondent and presidential campaign reporter, a syndicated columnist, and the editor of three magazines (most recently the award-winning Atlantic Monthly). He was killed in Iraq on April 3, 2003, when the Humvee he was riding in came under fire and plunged into a canal. He is survived by his wife and two sons.
Ted Koppel, the anchor and managing editor for Nightline and a long-time veteran of ABCNEWS, has won every major broadcasting award, including thirty-seven Emmy Awards. Mr. Koppel cowrote the bestseller In the National Interest.

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Read an Excerpt


··· Visions of America

King of Cool ···

Do not blame it on the bossa nova. Nor on rock-and-roll nor soul nor jazz nor rhythm and blues. It wasn't Elvis or the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. It wasn't Washington or Hollywood or the Upper West Side. It wasn't Ted Kennedy and it wasn't Richard Nixon. It wasn't the Years of Rage or the Me Decade or the Decade of Greed. It wasn't the Commies or the Beats, or the hippies or the yippies, or the Panthers or the druggies, or the yuppies or the buppies, or the NIMBYs or the DINKs, or even the ACLU.

No, if you want to finger any one person, place, or thing for what went wrong with America, you need look no further than that accidental one man validation of the great-man theory of history, Francis Albert Sinatra, 1915-98. Yes-The Voice, the Chairman of the Board, Old Blue Eyes, the leader of the (rat) pack, the swinger in chief-he's the culprit. It's all Frankie's fault.

American popular culture-which is more and more the only culture America has, which is more and more the only culture everyone else in the world has (we live, as the gormless Al Gore keeps chirpily and horrifyingly reminding us, in a global village)-may be divided into two absolutely distinct ages: Before Frank and After Frank.

Sinatra, as every obit observed, was the first true modern pop idol, inspiring in the 1940s the sort of mass adulation that was to become a familiar phenomenon in the '50s and '60s. One man, strolling onto the set at precisely the right moment in the youth of the Entertainment Age, made himself the prototype of the age's essential figure: the iconic celebrity. The iconic celebrity is the result of the central confusion of the age, which is that people possessed of creative or artistic gifts are somehow teachers-role models-in matters of personal conduct. The iconic celebrity is idolized-and obsessively studied and massively imitated-not merely for the creation of art but for the creation of public self, for the confection of affect and biography that the artist projects onto the national screen.

And what Frank Sinatra projected was: cool. And here is where the damage was done. Frank invented cool, and everyone followed Frank, and everything has been going to hell ever since.

In America, B.F., there was no cool. There was smart (as in the smart set), and urbane, and sophisticated, and fast and hip; but these things were not the same as cool. The pre-Frank hip guy, the model of aesthetic and moral superiority to which men aspired, is the American male of the 1930s and 1940s. He is Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep or Casablanca or Archie Goodwin in Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe novels. He possesses an outward cynicism, but this is understood to be merely clothing; at his core, he is a square. He fights a lot, generally on the side of the underdog. He is willing to die for his beliefs, and his beliefs are, although he takes pains to hide it, old-fashioned. He believes in truth, justice, the American way, and love. He is on the side of the law, except when the law is crooked. He is not taken in by jingoism but he is himself a patriot; when there is a war, he goes to it. He is, after his fashion, a gentleman and, in a quite modern manner, a sexual egalitarian. He is forthright, contemptuous of dishonesty in all its forms, from posing to lying. He confronts his enemies openly and fairly, even if he might lose. He is honorable and virtuous, although he is properly suspicious of men who talk about honor and virtue. He may be world-weary, but he is not ironic.

The new cool man that Sinatra defined was a very different creature. Cool said the old values were for suckers. Cool was looking out for number one always. Cool didn't get mad; it got even. Cool didn't go to war: Saps went to war, and anyway, cool had no beliefs it was willing to die for. Cool never, ever, got in a fight it might lose; cool had friends who could take care of that sort of thing. Cool was a cad and boastful about it; in cool's philosophy, the lady was always a tramp, and to be treated accordingly. Cool was not on the side of the law; cool made its own laws. Cool was not knowing but still essentially idealistic; cool was nihilistic. Cool was not virtuous; it reveled in vice. Before cool, being good was still hip; after cool, only being bad was.

Quite a legacy. On the other hand, he sure could sing.

--from Things Worth Fighting For by Michael Kelly, Copyright © 2004 The Estate of Michael Kelly, published by The Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher.

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Table of Contents

Editor's Foreword
I Visions of America 1
King of Cool 3
Girth of a Nation 5
Three Things I've Learned Since Kindergarten 7
Faux Commotion 9
Good Riddance to the "New Man" 11
The Road to Paranoia 15
Imitation Activism 40
Oh, Those Heartwarming Communists 42
The Systematic Corruption of the Catholic Church 44
Getting Hip to Squareness 46
The Nice Column 49
II The Game 51
Master of the Game 53
Wonk New World 79
A Plea for Diversity 82
The Midlife Crisis of Jesse Jackson 84
Banality and Evil 102
A National Calamity 105
Mass Sentimentality 107
Richard Daley Jr. Gets the Last Laugh 109
Texas-Size Failure 124
But What About Dad? 128
Ted Kennedy on the Rocks 130
Truth Be Told 149
III The Age of Clinton 153
A Man Who Wants to Be Liked, and Is 155
The Making of a First Family: A Blueprint 161
Saint Hillary 165
The President's Past 178
Clinton's Escape Clause 205
Bob Dole's Last Hurrah 219
Class 224
The Reich Stuff 227
The Artful Dodger and the Good Son 229
I Believe 231
I Still Believe 233
A Pathetic Speech - and Untrue 235
"Hairsplitting" 237
Farmer Al 239
Starr Wars: The Twenty-first Century 241
That's Entertainment 243
Conan the VP 245
Clinton Versus Bush 247
IV Wars and Peace 251
Before the Storm 253
Blitzed 257
Desert Rat 261
Souk Kook 264
Speech Defect 267
Kiss of Victory 270
The Rape and Rescue of Kuwait City 274
Highway to Hell 282
Rolls-Royce Revolutionaries 287
The Other Hell 294
Back to the Hills 298
The Fear of Death 307
Where Are the Dead? 309
The Visionaries of the Irish Agreement 320
Ignoring Nuclear Threats 322
Arafat Bombs on Opening Night 324
Mideast Myths Exploded 348
When Innocents Are the Enemy 351
Who We Are 353
With a Serious and Large Intent 355
Chicken Little Media 357
Return of the "Chicken Hawks" 359
In a Borrowed Tie 361
Exit Hussein 363
Immorality on the March 365
Who Would Choose Tyranny? 367
A Letter from Kuwait City 369
Battle Stations of the Press 372
The Calm Before 374
Warriors at Work 376
A "Much Tougher" Fight 378
Limited War, So Far 380
Across the Euphrates 382
V Family Wealth 385
Family Wealth 387
The Lure of the Evil Weed 389
Back to You, Tom 391
Some Closing Thoughts 393
Sunshine on My Shoulders 394
Growing Up with Mr. Fixit 396
The Nine Days of Tom and Jack 398
Epilogue: E-Mails from the Front 401
Source Notes 417
Index 421
Acknowledgments 427
About the Author 428
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