Editorial by John Ziegler

The Media's Conviction of Joe Paterno Still Doesn't Hold Up


Having been fighting an uphill battle on this issue since the Jerry Sandusky saga broke nationally last November, I am well aware that few people at this point are likely to change their minds about what they think they know about this horrible case. The horrendous crime of child molestation creates an understandably extremely strong emotional reaction in most people. But now that Sandusky has been rightly convicted, perhaps there is a chance that some media-created misperceptions can be at least partially corrected.
From the first time the allegations became public (significantly before the national media became aware of them when indictments were “suddenly” handed down) I have always thought that Jerry Sandusky was a pedophile of some sort and that he should be punished severely. I have not been convinced however that Joe Paterno was nearly as culpable as the media hysteria which surrounded this case last year demanded.
While it has barely been reported, and certainly has not been put in this context anywhere else, the great irony in the Sandusky verdicts is that they actually, in small but significant ways, do more to vindicate Paterno than to condemn him.
By far the most remarkable (and under reported) aspect of the verdicts was that Sandusky was actually found NOT guilty on the allegation of rape by former Paterno assistant Mike McQueary. Now, while the jury did convict him on the lesser charges brought based on McQueary’s testimony, it is extremely noteworthy that the rape charge didn’t stick.
This is because without the allegation of child rape by a Penn State coach in the original grand jury report it is very difficult to conceive of how this story explodes the way that it did, and I believe that there is no chance that Joe Paterno gets fired when and how he did. Quite simply, at least from a media perspective, this charge was the linchpin of the entire case.
McQueary’s rape allegation was critical for several reasons. First, it is the only allegation against Sandusky witnessed by someone who could testify other than the victim. Second, it the only allegation we know that Paterno was told at least something about. Third, it was one of only two allegations in the grand jury report which involved “rape” (all of the other rape allegations came from victims who came forward after the indictments and the media feeding frenzy which followed). Finally, the horrific nature of the allegation ignited a firestorm of outrage from the media and the public which created an unquenchable blood thirst for someone to blame and punish immediately.
If Mike McQueary had testified only that he saw Sandusky naked in a shower inappropriately horsing around with a boy who has never actually come forward, emotions would not have been nearly as raw, the media coverage not nearly as intense (incredibly, no one has ever pointed out that the first edition of Sports Illustrated after the grand jury report had exactly zero hard news articles about the case), and Paterno would have been able to go out more or less on his own terms and might even still be alive today.
But instead, led by the out of control media coverage,  people became convinced that Sandusky had raped a boy in Penn State’s showers, Paterno was told specifically about it, and the old coach did nothing to make sure it didn’t happen again. Some have implied/presumed that Paterno actively took part in a cover up (CNN’s Piers Morgan should be hoping that the Paterno family attorney didn’t see him proclaim during verdict coverage that “Joe Paterno was clearly involved in covering this up”).
But the facts as we currently know them just don’t support this narrative that the media has latched onto from the start and never let go of.
The jury, which clearly was very eager to convict Sandusky, declared unanimously that they did not believe beyond a reasonable doubt that McQueary witnessed/heard a rape. McQueary and Paterno both testified on multiple occasions that McQueary didn’t give Paterno a full report on all the details of what he thought he saw/heard. Paterno did indeed report McQueary’s allegations regarding a FORMER employee to his superior and the head of the campus police. And, despite an avalanche of emails which have come out indicating Penn State officials actively covered this up, not one relevant mention of Paterno has yet to be found.
There are many good reasons why the jury chose to acquit on that charge (and were being rather charitable to the prosecution by convicting on the other McQueary allegations).
First, McQueary made numerous statements to different people which were seemingly inconsistent. Amazingly, he somehow misreported both the month and the YEAR in which the episode took place (another fact which the media has almost universally ignored, proven by the numerous examples from the verdict coverage where reporters still incorrectly referred to the incident having happened in 2002).
Even more significantly, his actions made absolutely no sense. He made no effort to stop whatever was actually happening. He didn’t even bother to identify the boy (who, again, it is very important to point out because the media has also ignored this fact, does not exist as far as anyone knows). He didn’t go to the police. And he continued to actively participate in public events sponsored by Sandusky.
It is quite possible that McQueary observed something horrible that day, but in many ways he was a terrible witness and the evidence that Paterno had to go on regarding his FORMER employee was meager/vague at best (it is important to understand that McQueary’s testimony only screams “rape” when we have far more information about the real Sandusky than Paterno apparently did at the time). People seem to forget that Sandusky was a local hero who ran one of the largest charities in the state. A false allegation against him would have had devastating consequences for many people.
Paterno himself said (in what was misinterpreted as some sort of a confession) that knowing what he knew at the time of his firing that he “wished he had done more.” But at the time this was not nearly as easy a call as it seems today with the benefit of hindsight. There are literally hundreds of people who should feel the same way and many of them had far more information than it appears an aging Paterno did and none of them have suffered remotely similar consequences.
Did Joe Paterno deserve a medal for how he handled the Sandusky matter? Absolutely not. It is also probable that we will eventually learn more about his involvement in the case (personally, I have also felt Paterno forced Sandusky to resign in 1999 and when confronted with McQueary felt as if this was a problem that was no longer his to deal with). But to this date, if there was a fair trial of Joe Paterno on the question of whether he deserved to have his reputation/legacy destroyed in what amounted to a virtual death sentence, the verdict would still be a resounding not guilty.
I am sure that most of the news media would be quite shocked by such a judgment, but even a jury seems to care more about the real truth than they do these days.

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