Thursday, October 23, 2008

Shout Out to Jake at Page One

A big thanks to Jacob Payne for being the fly in the ointment of Robert Felner, and unfortunately by extension, U of L President James Ramsey.

For the first time the Courier-Journal and other news sources are reporting that the alleged fraud ranges in the millions of dollars. Jake reported that months ago.

But it's hard to know what standards of verification bloggers use, especially when reporting unattributed matters where folks don't want to be quoted on the record - a major and necessary hang up for the mainstream media - which explains why C-J was so slow to report the extent of the fraud.

So we had to wait for the official processes to tick away before knowing whether Page One's reporting could be trusted. In the end, clearly, it could be trusted.

I'm not sure that explains why C-J was so slow to pick up the story to begin with. Was it homegrown protectionism? Was it a lack of news-gathering resources? Something else?

It was unfortunate that Ramsey and Provost Shirley Willihnganz were so protective of such a renown jackass as Felner. They clearly paid too much attention to the man behind the curtain. There's a big lesson in there somewhere.

Better would have been a strong response from Ramsey that upheld the best ethical principles at U of L and assured his commitment to discover and correct whatever nefarious individuals may have done to tarnish the reputation of this fine institution. Instead he chose a type of blind loyalty that allowed him to gaze fixedly at U S News and World Report rankings while ignoring all of the smoke - until there was a fully-stoked blaze.

It is obvious from internal emails that university leadership was caught totally off guard by the incident. They were slow on the uptake and chose to go totally defensive in their public relations responses - a move Ramsey later regretted and apologized for. Many U of L faculty were dismissed as malcontents and some called for Ramsey's head.

It seems clear from the public comments that the U of L trustees have accepted Ramsey's explanations and seem to want to go forward with him at the helm. I am told by some who know and respect him, that he is much more capable than this sorry episode would lead one to believe. Ramsey did respond belatedly with a series of efforts to relook the obvious problems uncovered by the whole affair.

It's now up to the citizens (and I suppose, the Governor) to decide if the trustee's handling of this mess was OK with them.

It is not clear that accountability, beyond what lies in "Dr Feloner's" future, will extend to any of his lieutenants - or to what degree the trustees may have formally "evaluated" the situation.

One would hope new Dean Blake Hesselton has his dustpan out for a little house cleaning. I guess we'll have to wait for that as well.

But here we have yet another situation where "the press" (including citizen journalists like Jake) is threatened and painted as the bad guy for reporting "unattributed lies" that turn out to be the truth.

Good job, Jake.

Also a big thanks to Adam Walser at WHAS (and Mark Hebert for catching the definitive Ramsey quote) and the Courier-Journal. You can't ignore that big megaphone the mainstream media wields, and after a slow start both outlets did a fine job of elevating the story to its proper place as the lead story and on the front page.

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