Getting a book published is an accomplishment. There's no denying that. But the process takes a toll, especially on two old-school scribes, looking at middle age in the rearview mirror.
"Game Over: Jerry Sandusky, Penn State and the Culture of Silence," published by William Morrow/HarperCollins, and due out on Tuesday, was the most demanding writing assignment we've ever tackled.
The task was daunting from the start -- report and write a 75,000-word manuscript in less than 10 weeks. If the tight deadline wasn't enough, the sordid subject matter caused hundreds of people to convulse and flee when we broached our questions to them. As for the lonely accusers who said Jerry Sandusky foisted unspeakable abuse upon them, they were guarded by an impermeable shield constructed by lawyers wanting to preserve their stories for civil suits, their own books or both.
The guts of the book comes from hardcore, daylight-to-dark ground reporting, culled from more than 100 people who eventually agreed to talk with us. Because of the tangled web of legal issues, job security and fear of reprisals, many of them would only talk on background -- or, in the verbiage of old-school journalism, "off the record." We didn't like that notion, but relented because in simple terms, all we wanted to do is get to the truth.
Our work would consume the entire holiday season and more. Christmas was just another day of writing. New Year's revelers were still stumbling around Downtown Pittsburgh when Bill arrived at his office before dawn. He felt guilty taking a few hours to spend with his kids on their birthdays. Bob agreed with his family and grandkids to mark all holidays at a later date.
Time was something we didn't have. Those grueling days and late nights consumed the spirit. Like a 24-hour restaurant, Bill worked from pre-dawn hours until night, Bob night until morning. There were no arguments, probably because through the modern wonders of the Internet, we only met face-to-face every couple of weeks.
It was always about the story, not about us. But in Bob's case, at least, writing the book was as emotionally demanding as the inner struggle of being on a battlefield, as when he was an embedded reporter for the Associated Press during the 1990 Persian Gulf War. Landmines were lurking everywhere.
For Bill, who's covered bad guys his entire life, it was a rare and inconvenient convergence of the law and politics. Sources promised to talk, then clammed up. If the holiday season weren't enough of an impediment, the banal reality was that few, if any, of the sources saw any beneficial reasons for talking about Mr. Sandusky's alleged acts, Penn State's cover-up of them or any of literally hundreds of other elements of how the august Penn State University had sunk to such a low.
This story was not about arm's-length detachment. It required plumbing the depths and marinating in horrific detail -- and the raw emotions of shock, disbelief, anger and a sense of shame.
We had to talk to people who didn't want to talk. The noises of hang-ups and slammed doors still ring in our ears. Literally hundreds of calls and letters to potential sources were ignored. Government sources were unusually tight-lipped due to the unprecedented amount of security around the case compounded by the non-stop presence of media lurking throughout Happy Valley, trying to find those elusive scoops.
Here's a take from Bob on the emotions summoned by writing the book:
"Penn State thinks of itself as family and, although a distant relative, it's my family, too. Just about everything I have, everything I accomplished in 44 years as a journalist, began with Penn State.
"My parents lacked the resources to send me to college. But back in 1967, the state of Pennsylvania provided academic scholarships to students who made the grades. With the first term tuition paid, I was able to enroll at the Fayette Campus of Penn State, unsure of what the future held.
"But because I was going to college, The Morning Herald newspaper in Uniontown offered me a job. With that job, I worked my way through two years at Penn State before earning a degree from California University of Pennsylvania.
"My career path opened up because of Penn State. Writing skills were sharpened through the study of literature after I realized I'd never cut it as a mechanical engineer. One of those literature courses explored the works of Thoreau, who wrote that citizens in a democracy shoulder a responsibility to speak out if they think something is wrong, and that remaining silent makes them complicit in a crime.
"Over the years, I returned to the main campus to cover some Penn State games, which included attending those Friday night off-the-record sessions held by Paterno. In 1977, I interviewed Joe at the on-campus premiere of the TV movie 'Something for Joey' about John Cappalletti's Heisman Trophy dedication to a younger brother who was dying of leukemia. When Penn State won its first national championship in New Orleans, I was in the press box at the Sugar Bowl. The success of Paterno's Grand Experiment -- that you could assemble a team of students who had the credentials to study at Harvard and the athletic ability to compete with Alabama -- provided context. I was standing next to the Paterno statue at Beaver Stadium that January morning when Joe died of lung cancer.
"In my youth, I and my Penn State friends made up words to an alma mater we didn't know. Then the lyrics I learned from the school song stuck with me: 'May no act of ours bring shame, to one heart that loves thy name ...'
"I honestly felt that part of me died writing this book, but part of me was re-awakened, too. Joe Paterno was right: To be alive is to suffer."
Bill had no personal ties to Penn State, but plenty of experience:
"I had watched with disdain the insularity of Penn State for almost 35 years as a reporter. Officials in Happy Valley always had a 'we know everything and you know nothing' attitude that began when one asked the most innocuous of questions about mundane topics.
"It had built a cocoon of insularity so enveloping that despite receiving hundreds of millions in tax dollars each year, officials at Penn State didn't think they owed anyone explanations about what they did with it.
"It successfully avoided inclusion in the Pennsylvania Right to Know Act, the state's open records law. It thought the state's Sunshine Act, or open meetings law, was for everyone but them. It controlled Central Pennsylvania and all of the politicians who lived there. It was a closed society until the Sandusky case caused it to be ripped open. I wanted to report on what oozed out.
"Part of the book deals with how the lone Pennsylvania state trooper assigned to the case was able to uncover things that remained on campus over 12 years in two earlier investigations. We tried to talk with him, but Corporal Joe Leiter, who had taken an oath to be a soldier of the law, politely declined because of the rules of secrecy covering the state grand jury investigation. So did most of the other lawmen who eventually worked the case.
"But if a detective does his job, word gets around. From a wide variety of other sources, we pieced together how the fundamental police work of tracking down clues and knocking on doors lifted the lid on the Sandusky case and the Penn State cover-up of it.
"Ironically, we learned Leiter's biggest break in the case came when he sought out young men pictured in the accused's autobiography, 'Touched: The Jerry Sandusky Story.'
"The case enjoyed dramatic development when one-by-one those young men were located by Leiter and either confessed to the cop what happened to them, or led him to others.
"In his own words, Sandusky essentially drew a road map back to himself."
Our assignment was to write a story that could be followed by someone who knew nothing about Penn State, Jerry Sandusky and Joe Paterno. The narrative details how Mr. Sandusky, an icon as assistant football coach, founded a charity that was joined at the hip with Penn State and became nationally recognized.
The actions of leaders of that institution, The Second Mile, and its founder went to the heart of the biggest scandal in college football history, and the biggest scandal ever to ensnare a U.S. university.
As it unfolded, we found the root cause of this now-legendary scandal was the insular environment in Happy Valley that for years projected and embraced an attitude that what happens there stays there. We traced many interconnections between the university and the charity. We documented numerous political dealings involving them that reached all the way to the Pennsylvania governor's office.
We found many of the same things Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly spoke of on the day charges were filed against Mr. Sandusky and two high-ranking Penn State officials:
"This is a case about a sexual predator who used his position within the university and community to prey on young boys. It is also about high-ranking university officials who allegedly failed to report the sexual assault of a young boy after it was brought to their attention, and later made false statements to a grand jury that was investigating a series of assaults on young boys."
No one we interviewed remotely condoned sexual assaults of young boys, but virtually everyone denied any institutional cover-up, instead choosing to blame the misguided actions of a few for the devastating consequences of inaction that will plague the once pristine school for years.
In fact, when we asked denizens of Happy Valley how such a closed society could have allowed that, they repeatedly denied any prevalent insularity. We found it amazing that many inside the community still can't see it. We repeatedly considered the old adage that those who dismiss errors of the past, are destined to repeat them.
Our book also documents how chieftains of the university have spent great time, money and energy over the last six months claiming those days are over.
They insist Penn State is entering a period of glasnost. Time will tell.books - opinion_commentary - psusports - intelligencer
Bill Moushey, a Post-Gazette reporter for 23 years and Pulitzer Prize finalist, is a professor of journalism at Point Park University, where he founded the Innocence Institute (Bmoushey@pointpark.edu). He is the author of "Never Give Up: The James Harrison Story." Bob Dvorchak worked for 44 years as a journalist with Uniontown Newspapers Inc., the Associated Press and Post-Gazette. His previous books include "Battle for Korea: A History of the Korean Conflict," "Milwaukee Massacre: Jeffrey Dahmer and the Milwaukee Murders" and "Someone Is Stalking Me."