Why the News Took Seven Months to Run its Kern Wildenthal Expose, and Why That's OK

Categories: Media, Schutze

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There was a day when I might have come up laughing at the big investigative package in yesterday's Dallas Morning News on University of Texas Southwestern Medical School ex-president Kern Wildenthal and his expense account madness.

It's not just that the News "buried the lede," as we say in the news biz. Worse, after they had already completed their investigation in September 2011 -- when the gun was loaded, cocked and aimed, so to speak -- they gave Wildenthal more than half a year to wriggle out of it. More on that in a moment.

My point is that I'm not laughing. Instead, I am shaking my head in sheer admiration for the reporters and editors who finally somehow got this story into print -- even if they can't get it displayed in something bigger than size 6 type on the paper's homepage.

Maybe I've been around looking at this stuff too long. But what I really see when I read between the lines is a Herculean effort to get this story onto the page in spite of Wildenthals' very close personal ties to the ownership of The Dallas Morning News. That's something you have to respect.

I remember Wildenthal when he was still a nobody, some kind of cellular biology academic wonk coming around to editorial board meetings in the late 1980s to promote UTSW. I don't think I was smart enough at the time to get it, but he was actually a key figure in an historic transformation of the city.

Until then, Dallas depended on an economic engine out of the Age of Steam. Money poured into the banks from the 1980s shallow-well oil re-drilling boom. The banks bet all of it on local real estate. Local real estate inflated and poured in more money. Then the bubble blew, the banks all went belly up, and by the late 1980s Dallas was on its ass, badly.

Wildenthal was an important leader in an effort to create a new smarter more diversified economy with a heavy emphasis on research and technology. Under his leadership, UTSW, already a nationally respected school, became a Nobel-factory and the place where every med school honor student wanted to do a residency. UTSW became the big jewel in a new economic crown for the city.

The story in the News is the tragi-comic saga of wonky little Wildenthal and his relationship with all that big money. Obviously it got to him. He spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of med school money on his two big passions, fine wines and opera, and trotted the globe in a grand manner straight out of what I believe was called Opera Bouffe, an absurdly over-the-top style popular in late 19th century France.

That's the part that got buried in Sunday's package. To find the juicy stuff -- his multiple med school wine cellars full of fine wines purchased from his wife's cousin, his expense-account opera junkets -- you had to put on your miner's helmet and go spelunking down deep, deep, deep into the story past entire geological strata of technical talk about IRS rules and the history of American accounting practices.

Please allow an old news hack (me) to tell you how this works. If they had this same stuff on somebody who was socially defenseless, a free target -- maybe a controversial city council member, for example -- the wine cellars and the opera trips would all have been right at the top of the story. And for good reason. They tell the story.

Somewhere in al that copy Sunday, a tax expert was quoted explaining Wildenthal and UTSW's real problem in all of this. Wildenthal was using an expense account to "support a lifestyle." And nothing says lifestyle like wine cellars and opera junkets.

So they took it way easy on him and maybe short-changed the reader a little in the process. How many readers ever did the whole spelunking exercise to get down deep through all that copy to the good stuff? Who knows? Way fewer than if they had put the good stuff at the top.

But here's the worse thing: the reporting team on this project showed Wildenthal and UTSW what they had in September of 2011. And then ... nothing! They gave them the better part of seven months to figure out a response.

Believe me. For the controversial city council member whom your publisher doesn't like anyway? It doesn't work like that. You want to give the subject of the story a fair and honest chance at responding, and you always hold open the possibility that the response will be good enough to kill the story.

But the last thing you want is for them to take forever hiring a crisis management expert and devising some bullshit spin doctrine before you can get into print. You load that gun on a Monday. You say the story's coming this weekend. You wait for the response.

In a very complicated story like this one based on months and months of difficult documentation derived from public information demands, maybe you give them two weeks. A month? Yikes. Well, possibly.

But seven months? No way. Seven months only happens because you can't get the story into the paper. Seven months is a battle -- reporter's chewing their nails, editors begging for patience, somebody at the top very, very unhappy.

As it is, UTSW had time to carry out its own "independent investigation," duplicating the News' reporting on their own terms as if they were doing some kind of voluntary due diligence.

Wildenthal and UTSW's top auditors all took a powder and left UTSW ostensibly of their own volition last week, before the story came out. And finally the News hikes up its drawers and publishes the story Sunday.

Why the ultra-kid-glove treatment? Well, if you spelunked on down to the center of the Earth in Sunday's coverage, you might have made it to this paragraph about Wildenthal's very early days as a fundraiser for UTSW, the period I remember when he was still coming around hat in hand to editorial boards asking for free pub:

"To lead his first fundraising campaign," the News reported Sunday, "he recruited Robert Decherd, then chief executive officer of Belo Corp., which owned WFAA television and The Dallas Morning News. Bob Mong, now the newspaper's editor, served on the board of Southwestern Medical Foundation, UTSW's main fundraising charity, first as a voting member and later as an honorary trustee."

It's not about Mong. He's the top journalist at the paper. This story would not have happened without him. It's Decherd.

This is a Decherd story. It's about the way the city works at Decherd's rank and level. That's what took seven months. That's also why I am admiring today, not laughing.
In the old days at the News, when former publisher Burl Osborne was running the shop, you better believe this story would never have seen the light of day. Back then the paper could still afford a Siberia, and the reporters and editors who came up with his story would have been in it.

But, look: even if it took seven months, even if they had to bury the lede, even if they gave Wildenthal and UTSW a chance to bumble out the back door in their pj's, it's still absolutely remarkable that this story ever made it onto the page -- ever in any way shape or form.

If I had a hat, I would take it off and tip my head deferentially, having witnessed the journalistic equivalent of the miracle at Lourdes. In fact, if I had a crutch, I'd go nail it over the front door of the Dallas Morning News. Wait! I do have a crutch somewhere! Oh, can I still find it?


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Average Jopee
Average Jopee

This story was trying to get out 5 years ago when Robert Riggs ,an investigative television reporter,had several stories about all of this but he was terminated.This is a direct result of Wildenthal threatening to pull advertising dollars from the station to the tune of $500,000.The station couldn't "afford" it so Riggs was ousted.Wildenthal has/had power in the upper echelon of this city,as demonstrated by Ross Perot's one page ad declaring Wildenthal a "trus American".Of course he is! Wildenthal was raised in West Texas,but so what? It is very confusing to some,that many would see the inside of a jail cell ,having committed the misuse of about $700,000 of donor funds given to UT Southwestern.My question is,"Why isn't Wildenthal charged with a crime"?

Blun Go Go
Blun Go Go

Actually, the story has been buried for almost 5 years—not 7 months. I read the very interesting back story on a blog posting entitled, “Would you buy a used car from this man,” on the website, “The Parkland House of Horrors.” (See http://theparklandhouseofhorro...).  Back in 2007, Robert Riggs, former investigative reporter for KTVT CBS-11, did investigative reports on UT Southwestern’s President Kern Wildenthal’s lavish spending sprees ($7000 luncheons, world travelling, opera soirees, taste for expensive wines, and all for personal uses) and UTSW’s VIP patients and private donors. Kern Wildenthal and UTSW abused their power and influence to retaliate against Riggs and got him fired from CBS-11. The Dallas Observer’s Robert Wilonsky actually covered Riggs’ story even as far back as 2007. (See “UT Southwestern’s ‘profound regret’” at http://blogs.dallasobserver.co.... In addition in 2008, UTSW abused their power—through Belo Corporation executives and Wildenthal allies like Robert Decherd—to squash an investigative series that Brett Shipp was going to air on widespread patient safety and billing troubles at Parkland Hospital and UT Southwestern on WFAA, almost 2 years before the Dallas Morning News started their investigative series “First, do no harm” on the troubles at Parkland and UTSW. All of this is covered in the website, “The Parkland House of Horrors.”Now, I'm not sure why UT Southwestern is so quick to defend this crook who has been stealing from them and their donors. But I do know one thing, if they continue making feeble excuses on his behalf and continue trying to cover up this mess, many of their private donors are going to balk from supporting UT Southwestern in the future. People make charitable donations to worthy causes for a reason, and it is not so that their hard-earned money would be inappropriately used and abused by scam artists for their own personal enjoyment. Wildenthal and his toady friends at UT Southwestern used this money they were entrusted with so they could go to lavish operas, such as La Bohème, spend $7000 a shot for lavish personal luncheons, travel around the world in style, and stock their personal wine cellars with Dom Perignon when these naïve donors thought this money was being used for a noble cause to help suffering and dying people get over terrible injuries and diseases.It's in UTSW's hands. Either they make an example of Wildenthal, or they will lose all credibility, trust, and confidence from most of their donors and VIPs in the future. I don't think many of UTSW's donors will keep donating any more money unless UTSW cleans up their act and renounce their dishonesty and evil ways.

Larry
Larry

same reason they waited for that damn bridge to be built before going public with their story on cost overruns:

Insiders had a vested interest.

Ballsteinlawrence
Ballsteinlawrence

"wonky little" Kern Wildenthal? Funny coming from a wonky little journalist.

Daily Reader
Daily Reader

I read the entire article Sunday and was shocked that one person could get away with so much thievery without being noticed or disciplined.

Mike
Mike

It is not theft if you have permission. The problem is with the IRS for both him and UTSW. He and the school can expect proctological type audits with likely penalties plus beau coup added controls on the voucher process. Probably a few non-rich people will lose their jobs since they skated the line on falsifying records. That is the dark side of working at non-profit with lots of wealthy egos running th show.

Russp
Russp

Sad that the only daily newspaper the citizens of the city of Dallas have to get their news from is so biased and tied to the very people they should be writing about.

Nikesb95
Nikesb95

I am not sure what you are really talking about the DMN did a great job they have ran numerous story on this issue this all goes back to Robert Rege he already said everything it was just the news who dragged there feet to give the golden tower time to clear themselves but couldn't........the gold digger as he is know in Dalas deserves some jail time.....

S Aten
S Aten

I am glad that the Dallas Morning News published this story.  I remember Mr. Wildenthal fighting DART over the location of the Green Line.   The original Green Line route would have been down Harry Hines.   The doctors at Parkland were concerned that it would be too noisy for them when operating.   Ironically, the new Parkland Hospital will be as close if not closer to the Green Line than the original route.

So, the big question is will Mr. Wildenthal do time for his crime?

Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

Five Nobel Prize winners Took out a Full page ad in the DMN Touting the good Dr and the wonderful things he has done.

Shitz aids rapists
Shitz aids rapists

http://www.kmov*com/home/Illegal-immigrant-charged-with-raping-14-year-old-Troy-girl-149305495.html

Illegal immigrant charged with raping 14-year-old Troy girl

April 27, 2012

TROY, Mo. (KMOV) -- An illegal immigrant from Guatemala has been charged in the rape of a 14-year-old girl in Troy, Missouri.

The alleged victim says 24-year-old Juan Domingo Francisco-Esteban was involved in the attack last month inside her home. She told police that Francisco-Esteban and two other Hispanic men held her down by the shoulders while raping her on a couch.

According to documents, the victim identified Francisco-Esteban through a photo lineup. Police say he has also used the names Luis Guzman and Timothy Trevino as aliases.

The suspect lived in the Cherry Street Apartments, and neighbor Tanya Stewart said she often saw young girls around the residence.

"Very sick.  That's very, very sick," Stewart said.  "If I would have just known... I mean, this is why you take the time to get to know your neighbors and know what they're about and talk to them."

Police happened to catch Francisco-Esteban in an alleged forgery crime the day the victim reported the rape. Police say Immigration officials are already working to deport him, but want to try him as a criminal first.

He is currently being held without bond in the Lincoln County Jail.

Daniel
Daniel

I missed the part in the story where Schitze aided the assailant. Perhaps you mean he is aiding him by speaking or writing about any other subject -- audaciously and disingenuously, considering a rape was committed in Missouri? All I know is Schutze does not appear in the body copy by any spelling. 

Mister_Mean
Mister_Mean

Ah the hate filled phantom strikes again harping on a subject that is not even pertinant to this article.  

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin

cant wait for the all caps posts to kick in

guest
guest

 Not sure this person's motivated by hate so much as an obsession with child rape.Sure does go on and on about it a lot.

JimShitzRapistEnabler
JimShitzRapistEnabler

You and Jim Schitze enable child-rapists.

Mister_Mean
Mister_Mean

No I am not a priest nor do I log opinions under differing alias.    You only need to click on your profile to see that you are a one hit wonder (or looser).

RTGolden
RTGolden

Maybe they were giving the DO time to run the story first?

Wylie H.
Wylie H.

I, too, was astounded that this made it into the DMN.  In addition, I was curious about the length of time between the paper's investigation and the story.

Your explanation makes this all very clear.

Shitze aids child rape
Shitze aids child rape

http://www.kmov*com/home/Illegal-immigrant-charged-with-raping-14-year-old-Troy-girl-149305495.html

Illegal immigrant charged with raping 14-year-old Troy girl

April 27, 2012

TROY, Mo. (KMOV) -- An illegal immigrant from Guatemala has been charged in the rape of a 14-year-old girl in Troy, Missouri.

The alleged victim says 24-year-old Juan Domingo Francisco-Esteban was involved in the attack last month inside her home. She told police that Francisco-Esteban and two other Hispanic men held her down by the shoulders while raping her on a couch.

According to documents, the victim identified Francisco-Esteban through a photo lineup. Police say he has also used the names Luis Guzman and Timothy Trevino as aliases.

The suspect lived in the Cherry Street Apartments, and neighbor Tanya Stewart said she often saw young girls around the residence.

"Very sick.  That's very, very sick," Stewart said.  "If I would have just known... I mean, this is why you take the time to get to know your neighbors and know what they're about and talk to them."

Police happened to catch Francisco-Esteban in an alleged forgery crime the day the victim reported the rape. Police say Immigration officials are already working to deport him, but want to try him as a criminal first.

He is currently being held without bond in the Lincoln County Jail.

thorspanties
thorspanties

FYI....it's always best to post your response, then, hit the crack pipe. Don't wanna tell ya how to live your life. I just wish to pass on some, hopefully, useful info that may be of use to you in the future.

Bob
Bob

Nice job, JimS. Once again, you have made TimmyTyper's media analysis very second rate.

thorspanties
thorspanties

Hey! Us "second raters" are offended by this statement.

Steven
Steven

Good stuff Jim.  They didn't bother putting this story in one of the Briefing's 8 pages.

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