Greg Kelly, 34, is the son of the New York City police
commissioner and a former Marine fighter pilot who just happened to find
himself in Saddam Hussein's living room this past Monday morning.
This was, yes, an unusual place to be. But Kelly, now a reporter for the
Fox News Channel, was unperturbed. He looked at the rubble- strewn floor. He
stared at the torn curtains. He cast a critical eye upon the ornate balustrade.
And then, he summoned his Inner Martha Stewart: "It's kind of seedy," he said.
"It's not the palace that Architectural Digest would feature." Ba- dum. Not
bad, Greg, not bad at all.
There's a moment for humor in war reporting - not many, admittedly - but
this was one of them. There was something about the absurdity of it all.
Kelly's facial expression seemed to say, "We fought our way to Baghdad for
this? A badly decorated McMansion?"
Because Fox is mostly an irony-free zone, Greg Kelly zipped back to the
style viewers have become so familiar with over the last three weeks: spare,
poised and cool-headed. Ah yes, particularly cool-headed.
"He's extremely focused and intense," says his father, Raymond. "But he
does have a great sense of humor." He pauses: "I think we're alike in a lot of
ways, or that's what people say."
One of these days, there will be a debate about who the best "embedded" TV
reporter was during the war, and, frankly, it's far too early to hold that
debate now. Too many journalists have died, including a brilliant TV reporter,
David Bloom, who suffered a pulmonary embolism just this Sunday. But when the
debate begins, you must remember this name: Greg Kelly.
Kelly, for the benefit of those who have never seen him, has a smudged nose
in the center of a round Gaelic face, deep-set eyes, a receding hairline and a
mouth that seems permanently set to the slightest of grins. Blow-dried TV boy
he is not. Kelly, in fact, bears a passing resemblance to a young Andy Rooney,
who, incidentally. was one of the premiere legmen of World War II, for the
newspaper Stars and Stripes.
"A great face," says John Moody, Fox's senior vice president, news
editorial, of the Kelly mug. "You believe it [and] he is very self-assured and
measured in what he says. Television is not a business where hyperbole is
unknown. But he doesn't go for it. He tells you straight."
Kelly, like most of the other top embeds of this war, has had good luck.
Foremost, he has escaped injury, though he was cut by flying glass last week
when percussion from a bomb shattered the lens of a camera near his face. He's
also seen a lot of action. His unit - the 64th Armored Regiment, First
Battalion, of the Second Brigade, Third Infantry Division - was in almost
constant combat up the spine of Iraq, through Najaf, and then into Baghdad. On
Saturday, Kelly and his cameraman, Mal James, fed a constant stream of pictures
and reports from the city hours before the next U.S. TV reporter entered.
Raised in Garden City, Kelly went to Fordham University and graduated in
1991, but not before enrolling in officer's candidate school. "I always knew
that I would follow my father's career in the [Marine] Corps," he said in a
recent phone interview from Iraq. Not quite: Ray Kelly spent 30 years in active
and reserve duty, while his son spent nine. He later became pilot of a Harrier
V8B, a particularly complex and dangerous machine, in which a number of pilots
out, and was later found unconscious. His helmet turned up 2 miles away.
Still, he continued to fly, including over the southern "no-fly" portion of
Iraq, which gave him plenty of time to think about his future. Kelly's older
brother, Jim, who is assistant director of the New York State Office of Public
Security, one day suggested journalism.
"I dismissed it - too old - but he revisited the idea the next day and I
just thought, hey, I think I could do that and be passionate about it." After
leaving the Marines, he got his tape together and landed an anchor/ reporter
gig at a small station, WIVT, in upstate Binghamton. A couple of years after
that he moved to New York 1, where he covered politics.
Most people - including the city's new mayor, at first - did not know that
New York One's political reporter was also Ray Kelly's kid.
They would find out soon enough, and that would prove awkward for Greg
Kelly. "The problem," he explains, "is that he's the number two newsmaker in
the city [and] I just had a sense that people thought that I thought I was
entitled to information based on the fact that I was Ray Kelly's son."
Greg Kelly joined Fox News Channel last November as the network's
Atlanta-based correspondent. Because he was unmarried and had a military
background, Kelly was quickly pegged by his new bosses as a guy who could be an
ideal embed. Kelly happened to agree with them.
So, does he lose much sleep over some of the prickly questions that have
occasionally been raised about the objectivity of embedded reporters? Nah. "I
want these guys" - the members of the 64th Armored Regiment - "to win," he
says. "I try to correct myself in the live shots when I say 'we,' but I slip
all the time. I'm not objective. Yeah, I want these guys to win."
Or fears for his personal safety? "Yeah, something could happen but these
are incredible events and we have this incredible opportunity to witness this
first-hand. The opportunity exceeds the danger."
And what about his parents? Are they worried about him? "Absolutely,
absolutely his mother and I are worried," says New York City's top cop. "But he
certainly makes us proud."