Extreme views on Penn State woo some
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Kevin Slaten uses blunt expressions that endear him as a crusader to a subset of Penn State football fans.
On the Freeh investigation: "a pile of crap."
On the media: "a lazy lynch mob."
Speaking that message loudly and consistently, this sports radio personality on St. Louis' KFNS-590 -- who says he has no ties to Penn State -- has blurred geographic lines and become the voice for a portion of a dissatisfied Nittany Nation.
He speaks for fans who distrust the Freeh Report. He speaks for fans who think Joe Paterno has been unfairly vilified following the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal. And he's doing so on a mainstream sports radio station.
"He's sort of taken up the torch," said Jeffrey Simons, a Penn State alumnus who lives in the Dallas area.
Simons heard about Slaten through friends on the Internet about a month ago. Since then, he's tried to listen to his afternoon show as often as he can and told more friends about Slaten. Those word-of-mouth recommendations have helped Slaten go viral in the Penn State community.
On Facebook, a group titled "Thank You Kevin Slaten" has more than 800 members. Some fans have invited him to tailgate, and he plans to attend Saturday's game against Ohio University. Several Penn State message board threads are also dedicated to his audio clips. One user posted a picture of Slaten and his co-host, Sara Bruce, with the caption, "Our Noble Defenders of the Truth."
"If it's a cause you believe in, he's a true crusader," said St. Louis broadcaster and friend Bob Ramsey, who works for a rival station.
That mixed reputation is illustrated by the two sports columnists of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. One of them, Bryan Burwell, declined to speak on the record for this article but referenced comments he made in a 2008 story about Slaten in The Riverfront Times.
"He panders to the absolute lowest common denominator," Burwell said. "He's part of the dumbing down of America. He has a lot of opinions, but they are uninformed."
Burwell's colleague, Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz, described Slaten as passionate and said he had pure intentions. He said, in an email, that Slaten can be volatile and has been controversial in St. Louis for taking unpopular stands, which is why Miklasz respects him.
Slaten has crafted his recent platform about Penn State on the basis that he believes people are uninformed.
He said he started reading the Freeh Report the day it came out and finished the next morning, finding flaws in the report as well as with the media that he says accepted it without proper critical analysis.
Slaten, a lawyer who earned his law degree at the University of Missouri, says emails included in the report, particularly those extracted from 2001 concerning Paterno, were inconclusive and should not have been interpreted the way they have been by many in the media.
He questions Louis Freeh's credibility as an investigator, bringing up his track record with the FBI and his ties to Penn State and governor Tom Corbett.
He rips apart media personalities for saying Paterno would be vulnerable to perjury charges, saying that if Paterno had knowledge of an investigation of a 1998 allegation against Sandusky, he still didn't lie to the grand jury because of the way the question about it was worded.
He has sided with Ray Blehar, a U.S. government analyst who has published blogs contending that certain emails in the Freeh Report were doctored and presented out of order.
Many of Slaten's shows since late July have followed a theme of attempting to prove his views right and the views of the majority wrong.
His first main guest was Sara Lampe, a representative in the Missouri House. She criticized Missouri coach Gary Pinkel for speaking favorably of Paterno. As he has done with many of his interviews, he began by asking Lampe if she had read the entire Freeh Report. She said she had not and later during the interview claimed that Paterno did not report anything about the 2001 incident to officials.
"You called him a child-rapist enabler, and yet there's nothing in the Freeh Report that says anything close to that," Slaten said to her.
The podcast of the 40-minute-plus interview attracted more than 43,000 hits.
Slaten also conducted interviews with several media members and others who had written or spoken critically of Paterno, including Pittsburgh attorney and agent Ralph Cindrich and Vinnie Richichi of 93.7 The Fan.
The interviews became combustible, often quickly.
Others return the favor when they question Slaten's credibility. Last week, the Wall Street Journal's Tim Marchman hung up on Slaten shortly after Slaten accused him of false reporting when he wrote that Paterno understood the 2001 Sandusky shower incident to be "of a sexual nature."
Slaten said on-air Paterno was never told the incident reported to him was sexual in nature, and Marchman told him to look it up in the grand jury testimony.
"Don't tell me I don't know what I'm talking about," Slaten told him.
Paterno used the phrase "of a sexual nature" when describing to the grand jury the Sandusky shower incident reported to him in 2001, according to the presentment.
The decisive, animated, style is typical of Slaten, Ramsey said. He called him one of the most talented recent broadcasters in St. Louis "this side of Joe Buck and Bob Costas." Slaten has won numerous awards, including local Emmys for TV work. His name has also surfaced for less positive incidents.
In 1992, he was arrested for second-degree assault and later received a suspended sentence and probation. Slaten said an incident that happened 20 years ago should not lessen his ability to craft convincing arguments on the radio.
In 2008, he was fired by KFNS after St. Louis Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan alleged he was placed on the air without his knowledge. Slaten denied that he personally put him on the air. He settled a wrongful-termination lawsuit against KFNS in 2010 and began working for the station again in January 2011.
Ramsey said the incidents had little effect on his following. The people who dislike Slaten will always dislike his volatility, and those who support him will support his persistence. With regard to Slaten's Penn State stand, Miklasz said though he doesn't necessarily agree with him, he believes Slaten is fully engaged and sincere.
"Say what you want about him, but it's not as if he is doing this to improve his ratings in St. Louis," Miklasz said.
Earlier this month on the show, Slaten and John Ziegler, a former conservative radio host who hosts a website which defends Paterno, celebrated Rush Limbaugh for joining the relatively-isolated corner of their position after Limbaugh said some people were out to destroy Penn State.
Ziegler later referred to himself and Slaten as media in Siberia.
"We're basically being treated worse than 9-11 conspiracy theorists," Ziegler said on the air.
First Published August 31, 2012 12:00 am