Bruce Plasket Interview, Part I

Bruce Plasket reported on the so-called recruiting scandal that rocked the CU football program last year, and was granted behind-the-scenes access to the team during the 2004 season. Plasket is writing a book about what he observed the past year, tentatively titled "Three Hours on Saturday." Inside, Part I of a three-part interview with the journalist.

A career journalist, most recently Plasket worked for 10 years as a reporter for the (Longmont) Times-Call. Since 1999, Plasket was the Times-Call's metro bureau reporter, covering legal affairs and the criminal justice system, mostly at the federal courthouse in Denver.

Among the news stories he covered were the Columbine tragedy and its ensuing court cases, the Oklahoma City bombing trial and the Jon Benet Ramsey murder case.

As part of his beat, Plasket reported on the ongoing lawsuit against the University of Colorado brought by Lisa Simpson in 2002. The suit stems from a Dec. 7, 2001, party attended by CU students, student-athletes from the football team and high school recruits. Another woman, Anne Gilmore, joined the suit in 2003. Both Simpson and Gilmore allege they were raped at the party, and their suit accuses the university of creating a hostile environment for women.

In January 2004, the story surrounding the suit exploded, and for months, hardly a week went by where the university, the football program and its recruiting practices were not scrutinized in the local and national media.

On Feb. 18, head football coach Gary Barnett was suspended from his job by CU president Betsy Hoffman for making insensitive comments about former CU kicker Katie Hnida, after she alleged she was raped by a Colorado teammate off campus. Some of Barnett's comments were taken out of context and aired repeatedly on national television, and in opinion columns across the country.

A week later, Plasket published a story in the Times-Call that was in sharp contrast to what had been reported in other media outlets.

Times-Call story link

Part of Plasket's reporting revealed that media outlets — in particular Denver's 9news television station, the news outlet that drove the story in January and most of February — had been using a publicist, Lisa Simon, hired by the Simpson/Gilmore law team, as the major source for its reports.

The following is the first of a three-part interview with Plasket. In it he talks about why he wrote that story in February.

Buffalo Sports News: When did you first start writing about the so-called recruiting scandal?
Bruce Plasket:
In the first week in December in '02, Simpson filed her lawsuit. I wrote a story about it and got it filed. I wrote a handful more stories. There were hearings and new filings on the case, every few weeks or month. They take years. But I would write about it every few weeks.

And then all of a sudden at the end of January in '04, everything kind of broke loose in one day. And it became the big story, of course, during February, sweeps week.

It was like an onion. Layers were being peeled off it every day. I had been covering it just like I covered a couple of dozen of cases pending in federal court. They take years to cover and you don't cover them every day.

I was just going along merrily, doing that, then all of a sudden on 27 January of '04, I showed up in court and there were all kinds of TV, all kinds of print (journalists), people who never go to federal court. I thought, ‘What, are they giving away free hairspray? What are these people doing here?'

It didn't quite dawn on me that day. But in a couple days it did dawn me why everyone was there. It was obvious that Lisa Simon from Prescient Communications had alerted some people and was in fact making arrangements with journalists she'd never met before to pass out (Boulder District Attorney) Mary Keenan's deposition (taken as part of the Simpson lawsuit) the next morning in Boulder.

But she didn't tell any of the rest of us that Channel 9 (KUSA-TV, Denver) had been given it so they could run that night with it. Then all the papers would get it the next day.

But they were handing out goodies there, and that's why everyone showed up. As a matter of fact, Lisa Simon told me, ‘I'm just approaching everyone with press tags on to introduce myself and put the name with the face. And, oh, by the way, if you want this deposition you can pick it up in Boulder tomorrow morning at Ms. Simpson's legal counsel (office).'

Within days, you saw what happened. It was just layers and layers of this onion peeling off. Within days, it looked like the CU football program had maybe a dozen rapists on it and that the coach endorsed it and covered it up. That's what you were reading and seeing on television.

I put my alarm clock on sports talk in the morning. It always gets me up. It's pretty loud and mindless. It's pretty hard to sleep through Lou from Littleton. One morning in February, it was about 6 o'clock and Lou from Littleton said, ‘When we come back, we're going to have CU head football coach Gary Barnett.' I said, ‘Oh boy, I want to hear this.'

Gary came on there and one of the things he said was: I'd like to challenge every so-called investigative journalist in this town to go out, find all the facts, look at all the reports, search into this and see what happened, and then have the guts to print both sides of it. Print the whole thing.

He said something like, ‘I don't think there's anybody out there like that.'

Well I kind of buckled up in bed, and I kind of took offense at that. I said, ‘Who is this guy?'

So I got out of bed, stumbled across the hall to my computer, went to the school web site, found his state e-mail address and I wrote him an e-mail saying, ‘I've been doing this for years. I will find out what happened and I will print it, and I don't care who cares. If that is truly what you want, give me a call.'

I thought, that's not what he really wants. But about 11 o'clock that morning he calls me out of the blue and said, ‘Can we talk for a few minutes.'

I said, ‘Are you ready for the whole thing to come out?"

He said, ‘I'm anxious (for the whole thing to come out).'

And I thought this guy is either innocent, or he's crazy. Because if you're guilty, you don't tell some other guy to go out there and see what he can find. He's either innocent or he's Gary Hart telling The Miami Herald, ‘Follow me.'

BSN: Journalists use sources. In the reporting that I recall from that period, stories on TV or in the newspapers did not give the source of the deposition that was leaked. In your experience, how often does a PR firm for a plaintive in a lawsuit become an anonymous source, or even just a source, for a journalist?
As far as how many times have I seen the press agency or publicist period? That would be zero. That was the first, and I'm 52 years old.

As far as (a reporter) using one as an anonymous source, I've probably never seen that either. We (journalists) have this thing about we don't reveal our sources.

But if your source is dictating the story — trust me, if Channel 9 hadn't gone the way Lisa Simon wanted them to go with that stuff, they wouldn't have gotten any more (information from her). I didn't go the way (Simon) wanted, and I didn't get any more from her. And I'm sure Neill Woelk (of The Daily Camera) didn't get any more. But I'm sure Channel 9 did and I'm sure The Denver Post did.

Those are the shining examples in electronic and print media. Those are the two most shameful examples of pissant journalism I've seen in my life.

They protected that source. They wouldn't tell you they got it from Prescient Communications. And the PR agency gave it to everybody else. So, it's not a secret to begin with. But really what they were doing wasn't protecting a source, but protecting that source's agenda, which they were carrying out.

Lisa Simon is so smart. She figured out how to make this entire town report this story exactly the way she wanted it, in the order she wanted it, and without the other side.

If they give out the Academy Awards for publicity, she needs to have one. She's brilliant.

BSN: One of the basic tenants of journalism is fairness — giving the other side of a story a voice. Was that lacking through much of the reporting on this?
I believe that rule is suspended during sweeps month. I know Channel 9 has denied that happened. That's fine, they can say whatever they want. I was there, I watched it happen. They can blow smoke up everybody's ass all they want. Everybody knows that's what happened.

BSN: Tell us about your Feb. 27 story that revealed the Prescient Communications link in all of this?
That's the one that showed: Here's how the story evolved. Of course, when you show how it evolved, it certainly shows you a lot about the story itself. The media kind of has a habit or unspoken rule about never talking about the process, or talking about itself.

Well, you're supposed to tell people what happened. If a PR agency planted stuff on everybody in town on the same day to swing a story in a certain direction, then is that not news? To everyone outside this business, isn't that news? When we're selling people newspapers or TV shows, aren't we screwing them by not telling them, ‘By the way, this is what's going on here.'

But they didn't. I was the only person who said, ‘We all fell for this hook, line and sinker. This was orchestrated, it was a plan and they admitted it to me. So here it is.'

I was just completely appalled. And I was also humiliated. I felt that I had fallen into that trap at the beginning too. I was drooling just as much as everybody else to get Mary Keenan's deposition on the morning of the 28th. I sent a clerk over from Longmont to pick that up, and met that person out on the road and said, ‘Give me my papers.' I had to drop the drool off of that deposition.

But when I heard Barnett, and I talked to him for a few minutes, there were some things that were bothering me. And then within the first couple of days of just tearing into this (story) and getting those couple thousand of pages of depositions and police reports and statements, and reading everything you can find, you find a whole bunch of stuff that cuts against the story that had been in the papers. No one was even making an effort to even go read that stuff.

To this day, not one television station or one newspaper with the exception of the Longmont Times-Call has ever begun to cover the other side of this story.

BSN: Why do you think that is?
Political correctness has a lot to do with it. It's a gender issue, that has a lot to do with it.

Nobody wants to question or write the other side or appear at all insensitive to gender issues, and especially allegations of sexual assault. This side of murder, that's about the worst thing you can commit as a human being. So when someone alleges that they're the victim of the second-most horrible act on this planet, if you assume that any of those people are lying, then you're an insensitive boor, you're a victim-basher, you're a pig.

Tuesday, in Part II of the interview, Plasket talks about how he thinks race played a role in the criminal charging of four student-athletes and the accusations of sexual assault of two others.