The McGill Report


Michael Kelly’s death is one of those moments where you simply stop, your jaw hangs open, tears fall out of your eyes, you feel a rush of existential rage, maybe you look up to the skies, and all you can think to ask is “Why him?"

Jesus, the guy was good. A beautiful writer. A thinker. A journalist of ideas and yet also a journalist with eyes, and a heart, and political passion. I loved him best because he stood outside the conventional categories and it bothered him not a bit. His loyalty was to the ideas that he wrote about and not to any categories of left or right; or to beltway friendships or political alliances. The beneficiaries were his readers. His dispatches from Iraq were models of analytical reporting mixed with sensory details that let readers know at every moment that this is a warpolicies have human consequenceslike death

Here is the lead from his last Iraq dispatch:

           Near the crest of the bridge across the Euphrates that Task     
           Force 3-69 Armor of the 1st Brigade of the 3rd Infantry
           Division seized yesterday afternoon was a body that lay
           twisted from its fall. He had been an old man -- poor, not a
           regular soldier -- judging from his clothes. He was lying on his
           back, not far from one of several burning skeletons of the
           small trucks that Saddam Hussein's willing and unwilling
           irregulars employed. The tanks and Bradleys and Humvees
           and bulldozers and rocket launchers, and all the rest of the
           massive stuff that makes up the U.S. Army on the march,
           rumbled past him, pushing on.

He was one of the shrewdest, fairest, and most fearless analyzers of the influence of class on American politics and journalism. The best summary of the mainstream media’s liberal bias remains his two-part Washington Post column “Left Everlasting.” He was utterly uncowed by the enforcers of party doctrine from the left or the right. In these columns he made it clear that the media was still largely liberal and liberally biased. And he was critical of them for that. Yet his critique had nothing to do with conservatism. It had to do with noticing that the media's liberal bias was essentially the remnants of a once-proud politics -- not liberal enough in fact. As he told the writer Diana McLellan in the Washingtonian a few years back:

            Now at one point in our time, there was a liberal democratic
            philosophy that represented the interests of those immigrant
            parents, and that concerned itself with whether or not the
            school was good enough for them. Now we have a philosophy
            that calls itself liberal and progressive, interested in the
            marginal cultural elite but not particularly interested in making
            the schools good again.

           What we should want is a kind of liberalism that wants to
           make life decent for the assistant plumber and his wife and
           his kids—to make the public schools good, the streets safe,
           the city well run; so they don’t have to live 50 miles out in the
           suburbs because only the rich can afford to live in the city and
           spend $10,000 a year on the education of each kid. . . . I don’t
           think you have to have a political system that forces people to
           choose between silly leftism and uncaring greed.

It is unbearable to have to accept the loss of Michael Kelly.