Throwing the Book
"I fought for everything I ever got in the journalism business, and I'm proud of what I did," says former Longmont Times-Call reporter Bruce Plasket. "But I'm ashamed of the business, too."
He's none too pleased with the publishing industry, either. Earlier this year, Pearson Prentice Hall, a New Jersey imprint that specializes in educational books, agreed to publish Plasket's Buffaloed: Racism, Sexism, Injustice, and the Media Frenzy That Created a Scandal That Wasn't. In anticipation of an August launch, Pearson issued a press release announcing the book on May 23, noting that Plasket had been given "unprecedented and total access" to the CU football squad's "practices, meetings, meals and sideline during the 2004 season." But Buffaloed would go beyond standard sports-book territory, the announcement continued, in order to explore and condemn the manner in which allegations of sexual abuse by football players exploded across the national stage. It promised that "the story he tells is shocking: a cache of false charges and hidden agendas, of manipulative PR firms and politicians without integrity -- and above all, of rampant political correctness, media bias, and incompetence."
Lawyers are part of the tale, too, and thanks to one of them, Plasket says, "everything went to shit."
The attorney in question is Baine Kerr, who filed a Title IX lawsuit against CU in 2002 on behalf of client Lisa Simpson. Kerr stumbled on the Buffaloed press release, as well as an excerpt from the book available at the time on Amazon.com, and sent a lengthy letter of concern, along with a pile of supporting documents, to Pearson in late May. Shortly thereafter, the publisher booted Buffaloed from its schedule.
Kerr told the Rocky Mountain News that he "never asked that the book be killed" -- a claim that strikes Plasket as disingenuous, since the attorney's letter stated that if Pearson went forward, it would find itself in a "swamp of litigation." Kerr verifies that his missive did indeed contain this phrase, but he says Plasket has taken it out of context. (Neither Kerr nor Plasket would provide a copy of the letter.)
"If Mr. Plasket wanted to spend a season at Gary Barnett's invitation with the Buffalo football team, and to write a book about that experience, and about how the team regrouped and dealt with a spring of much adversity, I have no problem with that at all," Kerr insists. "A Friday Night Lights-type book about the Buffs would be fine. But there would be a problem with a book of false statements about my client, myself, my wife and a number of other people, and it appeared from the press release that it would be that kind of book also. That's why my letter urged that all those issues be fact-checked carefully, and false and defamatory statements be removed."
This wasn't the first time Kerr and Plasket have clashed. In "PR Blitz Rocks CU," published in the Times-Call on February 27, 2004, Plasket targeted a range of figures who in his opinion had used unsubstantiated accusations and heaping helpings of innuendo to make CU seem like a flesh-filled bacchanal for any dude who could run the forty-yard dash in under five seconds. While Boulder District Attorney Mary Keenan collected the majority of his vitriol, he saved plenty for CU Regent Cindy Carlisle, Kerr's wife, hinting that she'd given the attorney inside information about a program that let law-breaking footballers ordered to serve community-service hours work off their sentence by pumping iron with strength coach Doc Kreis.
Three weeks later, Kerr countered with an extraordinary eight-page letter to the Times-Call, in which he totted up six "factual errors" and three "misleading statements" in "PR Blitz." He also called Plasket on the carpet for using excerpts from Simpson's diary, which were "expressly confidential and protected by the court's Protective Order," and demanded that the transcript containing them "be destroyed." Plasket felt otherwise, and quickly provided them to reporters at the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News -- which wound up hyping an article culled from Simpson's diary on its front page.
Plasket, who currently lives in Albuquerque, takes umbrage at any implication that he's a CU lapdog. "I didn't write this book to do them any favors," he asserts. "I don't work for them. All I know about is what I spent two years researching, and what a lot of other people who've been writing about CU spent two minutes researching. You could argue that I didn't just spend more time than anyone who covered this story. You could argue that I spent more time than everyone who covered this story."
As a result, he had many opportunities to see the university's public-relations minions in action, and he frequently found them wanting. "There was a lot of frustration among certain people up at the university who don't think the school did much to defend itself," he maintains. "When you get hit by that much, it's enough to buckle anybody's knees, but I'm not sure when, or if, they got their legs back under them."
He may not care much for certain PR types, but he confesses to an abiding affection for members of the CU Buffs squad, whom he got to know very well during the 2004 season. "There was a lot of human drama, watching those kids," he says. "Most of them quietly went about their business. You'd never hear them mention the whole Œscandal' unless you brought it up, and even then, it would be mentioned in passing. ŒAll the bullshit' was the umbrella term for it. But I think every one of them was tainted by what happened, all of them painted by the same brush. When a woman said, ŒOne of a hundred guys raped me four years ago,' all hundred guys were under suspicion. So there was definitely a bunker mentality. Football was their refuge."
For Plasket, an extremely telling moment came in November 2004, after the Rocky reported that a company working for state prosecutors had discovered possible improprieties involving coach Barnett's football camp, including ten $500 checks written to "various females." The expenditures turned out to be gifts for the wives of CU assistant coaches, but Plasket says the titillating possibilities drew a large media crowd to the practice field that night. "Barnett was surrounded by TV klieg lights, and all the players were filing off the field with one notable exception: [quarterback] Joel Klatt, who's one of the quietest, most polite kids you'll ever meet -- really religious. He was sitting on his helmet, a scowl on his face, and as he's watching this go on, he says to himself, ŒI've got a sound bite for you.'"
Buffaloed contains many anecdotes like this one, but Plasket has no idea when the public at large will be able to read them. Pearson shows no signs of reconsidering its decision to drop the book, and has even asked him to return his advance. He'd rather not talk about this demand, though. "I don't want to say something to you that they're going to read and think, ŒThat son of a bitch. Fuck him,'" he admits. Likewise, he's reticent to discuss feelers he's received from different publishing houses, other than to say he's confident that some company out there won't be frightened off by Kerr's looming presence. In the meantime, he's working on a sitcom pilot, and while his cast of characters includes "a reporter and a lawyer," he says, "they have nothing to do with CU stuff. They're just stereotypes of the kind of people I had to deal with every day for my 25 years of reporting."
Still, writing jokes has been tough of late. "I've been trying to compartmentalize and keep my nose to the grindstone and keep working on what I need to work on," he concedes. "But it basically comes down to, this shit ain't funny."
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