Hearne: Exactly Who is Karen Dillon & Why Did The Star Fire Her?

Karen_DillonThe $64 million question: Why would the Kansas City Star ax an award winning journalist?

That’s certainly a puzzle that’s on more than a few minds in the wake the the local newspaper dropping the hammer yesterday on investigative reporter Karen Dillon.

As in, the Karen Dillon.

The Karen Dillon who famously brought down the career of peep show perve Pee Wee Herman in 1991.

The Karen Dillon who drove the Kansas City Police Department crazy with expose after expose in the mid 1990s, ranging from officers cheating on expense accounts to an $18 million scanner scandal and reporting that lead to an investigation by Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan into the operations of the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners.

Pee Wee Herman mug shots

Pee Wee Herman mug shots

Yeah, that Karen Dillon.

Oh yeah…

She’s also the Karen Dillon who teamed with me on a steamy front page story in 1993 about millionaire David W. Langhorn bumping off millionaire Roger A. Behrenhausen in a parking garage at KCI over a love tryst with sexy socialite Daneen “Dani” Householter.

“On Oct. 25, Householter watched in horror in a parking garage at Kansas City International Airport as Behrenhausen was killed by three blasts from a shotgun. Police say that her former lover, Langhorn, hired the triggerman,” we reported.

“The man charged with being the hit man, Grady Lee Motes, 26, a salesman for Langhorn’s company in Gainesville, Ga., is being held in the Platte County Jail. Days after Motes was arrested in Georgia, Langhorn fled and committed suicide in a central Kansas game preserve.”

murder_for_hireThat ladies and gentleman was a wild one.

A Vassar grad and Jewel Ball debutante from a wealthy Kansas City family who dated everyone from the head of the Paul Hamilton real estate company to the son of local tax magnate Henry Bloch.

And the same Karen Dillon who cobbled together a minimalist Wikipedia page outlining her awards as “an American investigative journalist,” it reads. “She won a 2001 Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.[1] She won a 1998 George Polk Award. She was named the 2010 “Journalist of the Year,” by the Kansas City Press Club.”

Almost as if Dillon sensed that after giving journalism giant Jim Romanesko an embarrassing quote last year confirming KC Confidential‘s Hunger Games scoop that her days at 18th and Grand were numbered.

Tough racket, print journalism these days.

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10 Responses to Hearne: Exactly Who is Karen Dillon & Why Did The Star Fire Her?

  1. newbaum turk says:

    I see what’s wrong with her. She has the wrong color of skin. Job performance is immaterial.

  2. Lance The Intern says:

    Pee Wee Herman is a fictional character.

  3. Gerald Bostock says:

    I’m not sure when you’re characterizing her layoff as a surprise when it was clear a year ago that The Star was pointing her to the exit, if not actually pushing her out. If the powers-that-be feared her departure, they never would have made her a contestant in the Hunger Games.
    Now, whether the layoff is wise or fair…that is a different question. Whether there is an element of vengeance in this because she blabbed about her situation last year, gee, that’s not the way things go at 18th and Grand, is it?

  4. CG says:

    Wow Hearne, I didn’t know you or remember that 93 murder case. That was kinda out of your normal entertainment news. Had to be a wild one. She has the history of a top notch reporter and then some. Sad.

  5. admin says:

    G Man:

    Well, maybe it was a surprise, maybe it wasn’t. Like I said, I think Dillon setting up her own Wikipedia page hints at her suspicion.

    You may recall that copy editor Don Munday – the Monday morning poet – also was put in a Hunger Games situation a couple years earlier and he’s still there.

    I think the Farmer connection may have something to do with it. He’s one cold-blooded mother-effer.

  6. This is pretty cool. A good read in my opinion.—–

    What’s really wrong with print journalism these days?

    Plain and simple, corporate newspapers across the country are whacking their top journalists in an effort to cut costs. The latest to get the axe is award-winning journalist Karen Dillon at the McClatchy-owned Kansas City Star who was cut loose Oct 20.

    KC’s most read blogger Tony Botello of tonyskansascity.com has done a superb summary of the situation.

    Journalists are the ones who produce the newspaper product that customers want to buy. However, over the past few years these key people are being routinely tossed aside in cost-saving measures by corporate newspapers.

    It would be like a computer company reducing its IT Department in order to save costs.

    Newspapers have increased their prices, reduced their size and the quality of journalism they provide, but still expect customers to buy the product. It is a model that just won’t work going forward.

    This site has profiled Dillon in numerous stories over the years because she has captured a series of awards for her stories. She represented what is good about journalism and journalists. (LINK).

    Why was Dillon given her walking papers (along with a veteran photojournalist) after more than two decades? Most likely because she was caught up in an ugly situation reported here in January where she was quoted by noted journalist Jim Romensko that told of how she and another reporter were forced to decide who would get let go and who would stay. It was a story that highlighted how cruel layoffs were at the Star.

    When that news leaked it infuriated the Star’s publisher and its executive editor so much that Publisher Mi-Ai Parrish was forced to send a note to employees denying the story (LINK). Few believed that explanation.

    If you want to know what it is like working as a journalist at a newspaper these days just check out Dillon’s explanation (below) on her Facebook page. Note that that Star has gone from about 100 metro/state reporters to just 18 today.

    I want to thank everyone for all the overwhelming support and wonderful comments I’ve received since I was told Monday that my job had been eliminated, including those from you who found my hiding-in-plain-sight page.
    I’ve spent the last 48 hours trying to make sense of what has happened. For five years I’ve watched as my colleagues were led to the gallows one by one. We started with about 100 reporters on the metro/state desk. Now there are only about 18 left.
    The golden era of government reporting that for decades provided an added protection for our public from bad or corrupt governments has passed _ at least it has in Kansas City.
    Nothing could stop this. The role of a debt-leaden corporate newspaper is to paddle quietly in still waters always looking the other way and always protecting the corporation, not its readers.
    At odds with this is the government reporter with a crusader’s heart whose will is to dive into rushing, uncharted waters. Armed only with facts, these reporters make waves, facing down bristling government officials, mad-as-hell police chiefs and silver-tongued attorneys.
    For many of us, our jobs were unlike any other jobs, and never was it work. Digging through mountains of documents for that needle and finding sources whose revelations could bring down corrupt officials or provide enough embarrassment to right wrongs was our sustenance.
    We could never get our fill and lived it 24/7. To steal from H.L. Mencken, “It really (was) the life of kings.”
    The past five years, the layoffs exacted a terrible toll on the many who were forced to leave, and for those who remained. I can never get out of my mind one early morning as a mass layoff began, I saw my good friend Mike Rice being led off by an executioner. The look in his eyes…The feeling of helplessness that washed over me…
    The world has changed a lot in five years. There are new opportunities. Mike Rice became a paralegal and now works at a top law firm.
    My grief will pass. I’ve always been a survivor. I will find work.
    But what has been lost to the public will not soon if ever be replaced.

  7. kcseopro says:

    Interesting read. I don’t really see an answer to the article title / question though. If they’ve cut 100 to 18, seems like just about everyone is getting cut. The Star is turning into a news aggregator sprinkled with less and less original local Kansas City content. The good ones should go out and start their own blogs…the journalists write the content and content is king.

  8. Libertarian says:

    Its all fun and [hunger] games until someone gets an eye poked out…..or fired.

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