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Sunday, Jul 13, 2014

Jill Kelley's sister-in-law: Reports cross line of journalism

Special to The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 09:04 PM

This article, written by Wendy Kelley McNeil, Esq., the sister-in-law of Jill Kelley, appeared on The Tampa Tribune's opinion pages:

My sister-in-law, Jill Kelley, was out of town Gasparilla weekend, so imagine my surprise when I arose the following Monday morning to find once again a report on her family, with a photo of her empty home with speculation that the "Kelleys were not having fun."

Jill and Scott were purposefully out of town to avoid unnecessary harassment. Unfortunately, even their best efforts to vacate their own home didn't work. They had done nothing newsworthy, yet here we are.

Humiliating a family and "reporting" on their comings and goings benefits no one. Nor does it come close to creating an accurate or fair representation of who the Kelleys are.

Since no one seems to be able to get it quite right, let me help and tell you who the Kelleys are.

This story long begins before Jill Kelley became a household name, and even before Scott and Jill were married. It began when Scott was still a surgery resident at the University of Pennsylvania and Jill was a bright young pre-med student publishing her medical research out of the University of Pennsylvania. They met, fell in love and married. Jill selflessly put her medical studies aside and dedicated the next decade to her husband and family. She gave every moment to support Scott's unrelenting passion of becoming a cancer surgeon, while raising three beautiful girls.

Jill used their success to reach out into the Tampa community to proudly support our brave troops, regularly feeding the homeless and acting in many other kind and selfless ways, while Scott helped and cared for sick people. Yes, through their charitable causes and welcoming hearts, they've been fortunate enough to come to know many incredible public servants.

But sadly, their family was not thrust into the public eye for charitable works, altruistic efforts or esteemed friendships. The headline in the local paper was just another baseless article to sell newspapers. This headline came out of nowhere, just like when Jill saw a man that she hardly knew on TV stating she asked for $80 million. As we all learned, this character was looking for his 15 minutes of fame because reporters gave a platform to anyone who claimed to know Jill Kelley — whether it was true or not. And just like the past hundred headlines, this bogus accusation was printed without fact-checking.

It was these same shameless and irresponsible headlines that also caused the Department of Defense to order an embarrassing investigation of Gen. John Allen, only to conclude that the allegations were unsubstantiated. This humiliating investigation needlessly shamed a great American general, a true war hero who honorably serves our country, all because of these false headlines.

Despite learning that all the allegations were found to be unsubstantiated and untrue, some delusional articles continue to be written by those long on imagination and short on truth.

For example, a ludicrous magazine article recently written has characters in its "story" who Jill has never before met, yet they claim to have sat at her dinner table — and even done her hair! This preposterous article speaks volumes of the need for honesty in publications. And despite the author's biased agenda (her boss is married to Paula Broadwell's publicist), these words will still undoubtedly be printed. This unprofessionalism is a disservice to the reputation of real journalists.

The interest in the Kelleys' personal life has crossed the line of curiosity and journalism, and is heading toward harassment. If this continuous harassment of a person were done on Twitter or Facebook, it would be called bullying, but somehow if a reporter prints it, it's called "news." That does not make it true or right.

The Kelleys did nothing wrong — it was this unethical behavior that wronged them. There should be accountability so this never happens again to another family.

Have you asked yourself what you would do if you received anonymous and threatening emails after working with the members of our military running the war in Afghanistan? Wouldn't you question and be concerned about the source of these emails? Would you not automatically be concerned for the safety of your family to report it?

My sister-in-law is trying to move on with life after being stalked by a scorned mistress. And for a number of selfless reasons, Jill did not insist on prosecuting Paula Broadwell. But whether she was charged or not, Broadwell's reprehensible actions caused the resignation of a senior U.S. leader, David Petraeus, and the humiliating investigation of our commander of war, Gen. Allen, and the non-stop harassment of Jill Kelley. These damaging headlines caused by Broadwell have prolonged the unnecessary and unwarranted suffering to their innocent families. This incident and the irresponsible stories that followed not only damaged the moral fabric of a community but also the country.

So, to our journalists I ask a favor before publishing another damaging article about an innocent family: Fact-check first, and then use your moral compass to truly ask yourself, "When is enough, enough?"