Reporting from the enemies list: The Paterno family is still shooting at the messengers who bear bad news
I learned the fundamentals of journalism from my first editor, Jim Yadamec, at The Morning Herald in Uniontown when I was a freshman at Penn State.
Be thorough. Be fair. Present all sides. Set aside your personal feelings because it's about the story, not about you. Follow the facts wherever they lead. Fear not the high and mighty. Slay the sacred cows. The principals in some stories won't like what you write, so be prepared to take a punch.
That was five years before Watergate.
Those lessons were followed in the writing of "Game Over: Jerry Sandusky, Penn State and The Culture of Silence" that I co-authored with Bill Moushey. Released in April, it was the first book-length exploration of the Sandusky scandal.
Our story included the denial by former coach Joe Paterno that he knew about a 1998 investigation of his top lieutenant, Jerry Sandusky, for showering with an 11-year-old boy in the Penn State football building. We also quoted people by name saying that it would have been impossible for Mr. Paterno not to know.
The day after our book came out, the Paterno family issued a statement that said, "There is indisputable evidence that Coach Paterno was not informed about that investigation, as well as the coach's own sworn testimony to that effect." Family attorney Wick Sollers said our work was unprofessional, irresponsible and an "egregious use of false and slanderous statements."
Our only comment then, and our only comment still, is that we stand by our story. People can read it and make up their own minds.
I can understand the family's position, though. Faced with a traumatic revelation, the instinct is to close ranks and destroy the messenger.
But now we have the results of an eight-month investigation commissioned by Penn State and directed by former FBI director Louis Freeh. His report concluded that four top university officials -- former president Graham Spanier, retired vice president Gary Schultz, suspended athletic director Tim Curley and the late coach Paterno -- showed "callous and shocking disregard for child victims" to avoid bad publicity.
The shock and raw emotion that most people felt upon learning of the report's conclusions were those we felt months earlier while gathering information for "Game Over."
One of the most damning revelations in the Freeh report was that Mr. Paterno not only knew of the 1998 investigation but followed it closely, and that the assertion he was unaware of the probe by the campus police "is completely contradicted by the evidence."
In one email cited, Mr. Curley notified Mr. Schultz and Mr. Spanier in May 1998 that he had "touched base" with Mr. Paterno about the investigation. Days later, Mr. Curley emailed Mr. Schultz to ask: "Anything new in this department? Coach is anxious to know where it stands."
According to Mr. Freeh, "The evidence shows that Mr. Paterno was made aware of the 1998 investigation of Sandusky, followed it closely, but failed to take any action, even though Sandusky had been a key member of his coaching staff for almost 30 years."
If anyone has "indisputable evidence" to the contrary, now would be the time to show it.
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Bill Moushey and I have been asked if the Freeh report validates our book. Our response is that "Game Over" required no validation. That said, Mr. Sandusky was convicted on 45 counts, and the Freeh report did confirm what we reported (without the benefit of several million dollars and a team of investigators).
Journalists stake their credibility on the accuracy of answers to their questions, and they react strongly when they are misled.
The emails cited in the Freeh report run counter to the one interview Joe Paterno gave after Mr. Sandusky's arrest. He told Sally Jenkins of The Washington Post, "You know, it wasn't like it was something everybody in the building knew about. Nobody knew about it."
After reading the Freeh report, Ms. Jenkins wrote, "Joe Paterno was a liar; there is no doubt about that now. He was also a cover-up artist. If the Freeh report is correct in its summary of the Penn State child molestation scandal, the public Paterno of the last few years was a work of fiction. In his place is a hubristic, indictable hyprocrite."
Aside from the 1998 incident, the Freeh report also focused on a later episode involving Mr. Sandusky and a child in the Penn State showers that was witnessed by then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary. According to the report, Mr. Spanier and Mr. Schultz were prepared to alert outside authorities but were advised not to by Mr. Curley, who wrote in an email that he had changed his mind "after giving it more thought and talking it over with Joe."
Reaction by other journalists who have covered Mr. Paterno has been unflinching, too. Rick Reilly, who wrote a 1986 Sports Illustrated cover story when Mr. Paterno was named the magazine's sportsman of the year, wrote for ESPN.com: "Here's his true legacy: Paterno let a child molester go when he could've stopped him. He let him go and then lied to cover his sinister tracks. He let a rapist go to save his own recruiting successes and fund-raising pitches and big-fish-small-pond hide. Here's a legacy for you. Paterno's cowardice and ego and fears allowed Sandusky to molest at least eight more boys in the years after that 1998 incident."
At this point, there's not enough soap and water in all of Penn State's showers to wash away the stain. But that doesn't mean no one will try.
The Paterno family has hired a team of lawyers to do their own investigation because they are "dismayed by, and vehemently disagree with, some of the conclusions and assertions" in the Freeh report. They still say Joe Paterno did not shield Jerry Sandusky.
Bill Moushey and I now have something in common with Louis Freeh. The Paterno family doesn't think much of our work. It's like being on the enemies list of Richard Nixon, who tried to discredit the journalists who uncovered the truth about his misdeeds.
It's not a bad type of list to be on, but my feeling mirrors the response of the mother of Victim 6 after Mr. Sandusky, found guilty by a jury of his peers, was led away in handcuffs: "Nobody wins. We've all lost."
This story isn't over. Perjury trials await Mr. Schultz and Mr. Curley. More criminal charges may be filed. The federal government, the NCAA and the Big Ten Conference are conducting investigations and mulling sanctions. It's like a rotten onion. The more layers that get peeled away the more pungent the odor and the more it makes you want to cry.
First Published July 22, 2012 12:00 am