Posts Tagged ‘Karen Pletz’

As you read this, I’m on the way to Louisville, which I’ll use as my base to make forays to Indianapolis for the women’s NCAA basketball semifinals and finals Sunday and Tuesday.

So, I want to leave you with something entertaining. And what’s more entertaining than some of the weird things that come out of people’s mouths? (Sometimes, unfortunately, I hear weird things coming from my own mouth, but in this case I’m going to focus on the folly of others.)

Three examples:

1) As you know by now, Karen Pletz — she of the spiked, blond hair and surgically altered face — was indicted yesterday for allegedly embezzling $1.5 million from the school she formerly headed, Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences. Among other things, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court, the 63-year-old Pletz forged approvals of bonus payments totaling more than $1 million.

And what was the reaction of her lawyer, Brandon J.B. Boulware?

“With today’s indictment, the federal government has injected itself into the civil litigation dispute between KCUMB and its former president, Karen Pletz…It is unfortunate, in our view, that local federal prosecutors would choose to spend public resources on a case like this when there are other, legitimate processes already at work to resolve the issues in dispute.”


Whichever Kansas City Star reporter interviewed Boulware — Alan Bavley or Tony Rizzo — must have had to stuff a handkerchief  in his mouth to keep from laughing.

“Dispute”? Oh, yeah, a little dust-up over a $million or so.

How about the federal government “injecting itself” into the case? Shocking! Why, those brazen prosecutors ought to be put in time out.

“Other, legitimate processes already at work”? Can’t we all just get together over coffee and work this out?

Personally, I think Karen’s hair will settle down after a few weeks in prison. And I think Brandon B.S. (I mean J.B.) Boulware will get over his indignation.

2) Earlier this week, federal prosecutor Richard L. Hathaway (there go those prosecutors again) said that former KU assistant athletic director Rodney Jones used proceeds from stolen tickets on “an extensive rolling party scene that persevered for five years.”

God, how I used to hate those persevering parties! They just would not stop. You’d invite a few people over, and pretty soon everybody would be drunk, and days would turn into weeks, and weeks would turn into years.

In Jones’ case, though, law enforcement authorities plucked him off the merry-go-round, and now he’ll have to persevere through 46 months in prison.

3) In a March 25 story, Kansas City Star sports writer Mike DeArmond clicked off the steps leading up to Mike Anderson’s decision to resign as men’s basketball coach at the University of Missouri and take the same post at the University of Arkansas.

It was high drama, the way DeArmond and Mizzou athletic director Mike Alden recounted it.


“At 6:20 p.m., Alden said, his telephone rang. It was Anderson calling with a request for Alden to meet him around 6:45 p.m. in Anderson’s office at Mizzou Arena. Alden made the walk from his office on the opposite side of the arena to Anderson’s door.

‘He informed me at that time that he was going to be resigning his position with the University of Missouri as our head men’s basketball coach,’ Alden said.”

Well, thank you, Mike Alden, for letting us know exactly what Anderson’s title was, and thank you, Mike DeArmond, for taking up three lines of newsprint with that powerfully redundant information.

Now, I can hardly wait to see who Alden is going to hire as the next head men’s basketball coach at the University of Missouri.

Or should I say next head men’s basketball coach at the University of Missouri-Columbia?

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As it should, The Star is pushing hard to keep the Karen Pletz story alive and moving forward. 

In its zeal to stay ahead of the game, however, I think The Star made a big mistake in its latest story, published Sunday, by granting anonymity to three sources who didn’t deserve it.

The story essentially reported the contents of four letters, written three to five years ago, and sent to Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences board members about Pletz’ $1.2 million salary and her questionable expenditure of university funds.

Only one of the letter writers, physician Maureen Dudgeon, who led the university’s bioethics program, was willing to go on the record. She wrote an anonymous letter to several board members in April 2007 and resigned after the board took no action on her complaints.

Reporter Alan Bavley, The Star’s medical writer, built his story around Dudgeon precisely because she was willing to go on the record. From there, however, the story loses momentum because it devolves into anonymous sources.

The first letter to board members, for example, was written by a university employee in 2005.  Bavley does not say whether the employee signed his name to the letter, although I think we can assume that he did. The letter was sent to two board members, the IRS and the Missouri attorney general’s office.

Bavley wrote: “The writer asked to remain anonymous because of continuing ties to the medical community.”

To that, I say balderdash. If you think about it, it means that the writer of the letter would rather have the medical community regard him as discreet about outrageous conduct rather than someone courageous enough to expose reprehensible conduct. Furthermore, I’m sure that just about everyone who is intimately familiar with the Pletz situation is well aware of the letter writer’s identity. So what’s to hide?

To me, Bavley and his editors should have pushed the letter writer hard to go on the record…or the story should have run without the information.

Same for the third and fourth letters, one of which was sent by a student to board members and the other by a whistle-blower to the university’s auditing firm.

Now, the whistle blower has got to be widely known, otherwise she wouldn’t be a whistle blower. And yet, Bavley granted her anonymity “because of continuing relationships in the Kansas City health care community.”

Cop-out, that’s all you can say — by the whistle blower, Bavley and the editors. Everybody washes their hands and walks away.

As for the student — now a medical resident — she asked that her name not be used “because she feared reprisals.” That’s the oldest, tiredest excuse in the book.

Feared reprisals? From whom? People who would make life difficult for her because she had stood up for what was right? Because she saw obvious problems at her school and wanted to see them corrected? 


Yet, I’ve been in Bavley’s shoes, and I know how difficult it is for a reporter to withhold anonymity. When you’ve got a source talking and the information is flowing — and you’ve already granted anonymity — the last thing you want to do is shut off the spigot.

Nevertheless, Bavley and his editors should have pulled in the reins on their eagerness to get the big, six-column story that they wanted. From the outset, they should have talked about the conditions under which they would grant anonymity, and that issue should have been re-evaluated every step of the way, depending on what the sources were saying and why they wanted to be off the record. Anonymity is not carte blanche; you can seek to change the terms along the way.  

If Bavley could have gotten just one of the three anonymous sources to agree to be on the record, along with Dudgeon, the story would have been much stronger and less gossipy.

Often, a reporter has to become a salesperson — first selling a story idea to an editor, then selling the idea to sources so they will want to participate and, finally, selling sources on the importance of putting their names behind what they believe in. 

In my book, Bavley gets a B-minus for the story and an “F” for salesmanship. Likewise, his editors get an “F” for failing to shepherd the story responsibly.

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