Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sports Illustrated continues to fail in its coverage of Penn State

Sports Illustrated doesn't grasp the full picture with regard to the Sandusky scandal. Again.

The esteemed major news publication that late this summer declared “We Were Penn State” on a darkened, shadowy cover of its national magazine just ran a lengthy one-year-after-the-Sandusky-bomb-dropped story titled “We Are Still ... Penn State.”

That’s what one raucous 107,000-plus whiteout will do, apparently.

It was the cover story of last week’s Sports Illustrated, accompanied by a breathtaking photo of the jam-packed Beaver Stadium “whiteout” Oct. 27 vs. Ohio State.

(In other parts of the country SI ran a different story/photo on the cover, but still had a teaser to the PSU story.)

SI beat the rush. We’ve been flooded with one-year-after-Sandusky stories the past several days.

However, this in-depth feature went much deeper than a superficial, seemingly optimistic twist on Penn State’s catchphrase.

And the title didn't fit the story.

“We Are Still ... Penn State” doesn’t capture the tenor or content of the piece.

A more accurate headline would have been, “We’ll Always Be Here To Condemn You, Penn State.”

The sub-headline on the cover better represented the story premise: “Defiance, Collective Guilt, Revival ... Happy Valley one year later.’’


Once again, Sports Illustrated is somewhat clueless about Penn State, and is determined to continue harping the negative - the story opens by painting a depressing scene about State College for Homecoming - and presenting a generally skeptical, dismissive view about the massive lingering issues related to the widening scope of the Sandusky scandal, beyond the trials of PSU administrators Tim Curley and Gary Schultz.

The timing of the story was impeccable: It hit newsstands and mailboxes the exact day former PSU president Graham Spanier was charged by the state with perjury, obstruction, endangering the welfare of children and conspiracy, joining former Curley and Schultz as defendants.

It is SI’s fourth major story in the past year about Penn State directly related to the scandal. Talented, veteran takeout writer S.L. Price invested weeks on it, apparently, as he cited first-hand accounts of events at the Oct. 6 Homecoming game as well as the Oct. 27 Ohio State game.

Despite the lengthy effort, and the attempt at being comprehensive, this one is similar to SI’s other three big PSU/Sandusky articles: Big chunks of the story have major problems, mischaracterizations and blind spots. (See a summary of those first three SI stories - and their major failings - at the end of this post.)

The story simply fails to capture general sentiment, and distorts the facts about the situation. The author seemed baffled by and condescending toward the dissension among Penn Staters and anyone who doesn’t swallow the Freeh Report. The story insufficiently conveys the reasoning for the feelings of huge swaths of alums, and, jarringly, perpetuates a critical, flagrant fact error.

More than that, it just doesn’t get it. It comes with a predetermined, off-kilter perspective: Penn State was doing something horrible (no, Sandusky was), Penn State deserves to suffer (no, Sandusky and perhaps a few individuals do), and Penn State still doesn’t understand (despite the fact Penn Staters seem to understand a whole lot more than the national media).

Price/Sports Illustrated and pretty much every other national media outlet don’t seem to recognize that, as horrible as Sandusky’s crimes were, 99.99% of Penn Staters were not only appalled and sickened - and probably even more appalled and sickened than the average person, since many of Sandusky deeds occurred at a place they love - but also never knew, nor in any way ever could have done anything, about it.

Let’s start with the “collective guilt” assertion, and turn the tables.

Would Price and his cohorts and editors at Sports Illustrated be feeling “collective guilt” if Sandusky had been a retired high-ranking executive at Sports Illustrated or Time Inc., their parent company? If he had committed many of these crimes while working for SI, some of them at the SI home offices? If three top officials at Time Inc. were charged with enabling?

Of course not. They had nothing to do with it. And the collective guilt assertion doesn’t convey the feeling of the majority at Penn State, either.

Now, about “defiance.” Would Price and his cohorts be feeling “defiance” if some sort of professional journalism governing body (their version of the NCAA) then hammered Sports Illustrated’s current staff with debilitating sanctions that directly harmed them and their company? If they limited the number of stories they can produce, number of magazines they can print, number of staffers they can employ, etc., even though they and everyone they know and work with had nothing to do with it?

And what if, on top of that, the national media, publishing industry and general public scorned them, the completely innocent ones - even as the guilty were being dealt with by the justice system? Would they feel defiance?

Of course they would. They might even wear T-shirts saying “WE ARE ... PISSED OFF.’’

But the story dismissed any such defiance at PSU as merely misplaced blame by confused, upset people.

It’s almost incomprehensible to think that another major organization, in an identical situation, would be as condemned and scorned as Penn State has been.

Why? Because there have been other Sanduskys, and other Sandusky-like situations. But they haven’t generated even a fraction of the negative national media attention Sandusky has.

For example, a Boston Red Sox employee, a clubhouse manager who befriended most everyone in the organization, sexually abused dozens of boys for decades, in Red Sox facilities, during the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, and was tried and convicted several years ago (and died shortly thereafter).

It has barely registered on the national scene, even though it has been known and written about for years now, and is ongoing - more revelations recently - despite the convictions and settlements.

And if you think the lack of national coverage is because nobody in the Red Sox hierarchy knew about it or had suspicions - unlike allegedly they did about Sandusky at Penn State - well, that’s not true.

Just Google the name Donald Fitzpatrick and Red Sox, or read this, an update on the story from just last month, and you'll be stunned:

Where has ESPN been on this one? CNN? Sports Illustrated? New York Times?


Perhaps the only good thing about the national media ignoring it is, they can’t misreport it then.

The national media has led the way on the miscarriage of news and information regarding the Sandusky scandal. It’s shocking and depressing how wrong they continue to be, because a lot of people read and respect Sports Illustrated. They consider it the benchmark for sports news. And they are being deceived.

The best part of the cover's sub-headline was the “revival” part. But that seemed tossed in at the last moment. The raucous, packed whiteout forced them to use a word like “revival,” because everyone saw it for themselves.

Price makes a big deal out of something from the Freeh Report that has - no surprise - never been put in proper context by the national media:

“(Louis) Freeh’s description of Penn State janitors fearful of reporting Sandusky’s sexual assault of a boy in 2000 because ‘they were afraid to take on the football program’ was appalling, and his conclusion set the tone. ‘If that’s the culture at the bottom?’ Freeh said at his press conference. ‘God help the culture at the top.’’’

The gargantuan failure of logic in that statement is this: Those at the bottom - in this instance, the janitors - feel that way about those at the top - in this instance, Sandusky - in every large and powerful organization everywhere.

Whether it’s the FBI, or the NCAA, or U.S. Steel, or the University of Texas, or Penn State - any huge, powerful organization - the janitors, of course, would be fearful of reporting unlawful actions of the high and mighty.

If two janitors at the FBI in the 1990s saw then-FBI Director Louis Freeh sexually assaulting someone, would the “culture” at the FBI have been so much better than that at Penn State it would resulted in the janitors reporting Freeh to the police, and justice being done?

Of course not. The janitors likely would have been so fearful of reprisal from the powerful - in this hypothetical instance, Freeh - that they would have hoped that Freehhad not seen them.

Unless the janitors videotape it, they’ve got no chance, and they know it, of course - whether it’s the FBI, Time Inc., Penn State, Pitt, Ohio State, the NCAA, U.S. Steel or name-a-huge-and-powerful-organization.

Sandusky is a tragedy of epic proportions. But the fact that a janitor did not feel empowered to take on Sandusky is not condemning of the culture. It’s just a sad, unfortunate fact of any power dynamic in any major organization. Janitors everywhere in similar situations would not feel empowered to do so.

One item on the plus side from Price’s story: He discusses at length Gov. Tom Corbett. While he didn’t break any new ground, this is the first major national news source (apparently) to acknowledge the major controversy surrounding Corbett’s grand and controversial role in this entire affair. It also opened a window into acknowledging that hey, this scandal’s tentacles actually extend well beyond the campus borders. Unfortunately, it doesn’t touch on everything, and it reads in parts like Corbett’s legal defense team wrote it. But it’s a start.

So bully for that.

Unfortunately, there were many more lowlights, such as:
  • No discussion of the Second Mile’s role. (Has anyone ever escaped scrutiny like the folks who operated the Second Mile and supplied Sandusky with all of his victims for decades?)
  • No examination of the staggering failings, bizarre conflicts (the Surma brothers?) and highly questionable actions of the PSU Board of Trustees. (How have there not been major national stories simply about this?) Only a mention that the BOT “remains under fire from angry alumni for a perceived rush to dump Paterno and accept the Freeh Report and the NCAA sanctions.” Perceivedrush? What other reasonable perception could there be for these acts?
  • Only a glossed over mention of the football program’s outstanding history of academic success according to all metrics, such as graduation rate, Academic All-Americans and the new NCAA favorite, APR. And, no analysis of NCAA president Mark Emmert’s ironic accusations about academics and athletics being out of whack at PSU, despite all evidence to the contrary.
  • Incredibly, Price writes of the NCAA sanctions, “considering the heinous acts involved, the white-hot media coverage and recent scandals at (other schools), the organizations’s panicky speed and severity were understandable.” So, it’s okay to panic, be hasty, not investigate and be as severe as possible ifheinous acts occurred, the media coverage is intense and other schools have been in trouble recently? This makes no sense at all. It’s comically illogical. It’s not as if Sandusky would have continued abusing children if the NCAA didn’t punish Penn State post-haste.
  • No discussion of the inexplicable discrepancies between the Grand Jury presentment regarding Mike McQueary’s testimony and his actual testimony.
  • A superficial mention of the 1998 investigation that cleared Sandusky, with vague implications supported by zero evidence that someone powerful at Penn State (we’re left to assume he means Paterno or Spanier) may have pulled some strings behind the scenes.
  • The perpetuating of an extraordinary and critical fact error/lie, one that has been a media staple since the scandal broke - the use of the word "rape" to describe what Mike McQueary says he saw Sandusky doing to a boy in the shower. Price twice references it, first writing of "McQueary's report of Sandusky's rape a boy" from 2001, and later saying "faced with the publicity sure to erupt following the revelation of a football celebrity's raping children, the administration choked." Except McQueary never reported to anyone he saw a rape, and no one ever has said McQueary told them he saw a boy being raped. The facts, culled straight from McQueary’s testimony in Dec. 2011, at a preliminary hearing for Curley and Schultz: “I have never used the word anal or rape in this - since day one.”
  • And the continued refusal to legitimately question the unquestionably questionable Freeh Report.
Price minimally acknowledged the Freeh Report has shortcomings. But there is no real analysis whatsoever of this deeply flawed document, one that resulted in such unprecedented, extraordinary measures, and was created by a man whose integrity and motives can be legitimately questioned.

(Freeh’s integrity? A Vanity Fair story about his disgusting treatment of Richard Jewell reveals some of Freeh's background and history of sketchy, harmful behavior:

It’s as if the national media, for unknown, inexplicable reasons, can’t actually be bothered reading and analyzing the full Freeh Report.

Which is flabbergasting considering the cataclysmic fallout from the report.

Those who actually read it - all of it - are struck by the gaping chasm between the (lack of) evidence Freeh brings against Paterno, and the conclusions Freeh asserts about Paterno.

But Price, like so many others, doesn’t dig into it at all, he just accepts it, and implies that anyone who doesn’t is biased or has ulterior motives.

Here’s a primer for anyone actually interested in the Freeh Report’s flaws - a rational, easily readable, fact-based evisceration:

Freeh's assertions about Paterno are specious, at best. Yet Sports Illustrated, Price and so many others, rather than evaluate the Freeh Report, simply refer to anyone who disagrees with it as having “blind loyalty” and/or as a “Paterno apologist.”

Which is of course no more true than saying Price is a “false assertion, incomplete information, flawed methodology and fraudulent conclusion apologist” for Louis Freeh.

It’s a cheap cop out.

Still, of course, we know now, yes, Sandusky is/was guilty. He is a sicko of the highest order who has destroyed the lives of so many victims.

There may be no way to deliver appropriate justice to Sandusky, his crimes are so egregious. But with the justice system we have, justice is being done on Sandusky.

But that’s not the point here. The point is the media misrepresentations have completely distorted this Sandusky saga, far and wide, and deeply and unfairly impacted the lives of so many others.

We’ve been given as much untruth as truth.

What the national media is missing is that we the public, and we Penn State supporters, can be abjectly sickened by Sandusky, and vigorously pursue justice and the full truth, without false-feeding the rabid, powerful desire to lash out and punish anyone who may have enabled Sandusky, or turned a blind eye to him, before we actually know what happened.

The Freeh Report certainly didn’t tell us what happened. It provided some valuable information. That’s all. Freeh took that limited information and duped the media and public and NCAA into believing it proved much, much more than it does.

Like most stories about PSU in the past year, Price’s comes from a predetermined point of view, one that was fed like gasoline on a raging inferno by the fraudulent Freeh Report.

The exaggerations, half-truths and untruths have created a false reality. The national media not only has let this happen, but has been a big part of creating this false reality.

The real lesson here, the real, sobering, frightening reality, is that there are Sanduskys all over the map. In all walks of life, in all corners of the globe.

Child sex abusers are your neighbors, your peers, your coaches, your friends, your teachers, your co-workers, and, possibly, your relatives.

It’s virtually impossible, statistically, for someone to not know a child sex abuser. You just don’t know they are a child sex abuser - at least not until they get caught. If they get caught. Or unless they have abused you.

And while you may only know a handful of child sex abusers, you know scores of child sex abuse victims. Conservative estimates say 1 in 10 adults was a child sex abuse victim.

The only way the Sandusky saga can make a meaningful, positive social impact - the only way it can truly make a difference toward eradicating the horror of child sex abuse - is if the facts and the truth are fully pursued and revealed.

Most Penn Staters want the facts, all of them.

Most Penn Staters are simply looking for the full truth.

Most Penn Staters recognize that we’ve been fed some lies and deceptions, and haven’t nearly ascertained all the facts or the full truth.

Not with regard to The Second Mile.

Not with regard to Gov. Corbett.

Not with regard to Curley, Schultz and Spanier, who will get their day in court.

Not with regard to the BOT, which was sleeping on the initial charges; which panic-fired Paterno with no investigation; which accepted the Freeh Report with no review, as well as the subsequent rush-job NCAA sanctions; which allowed such an obvious conflict of interest in having John Surma, brother of bizarre, hostile, openly anti-Paterno former PSU football player Victor Surma, leading the dismissal of Paterno; which has presided over the destruction of the school’s reputation and bank account; and which has removed only one single solitary board member in that time.

Not from the Freeh Report.

Not from the 1998 police investigation, which needs its own investigation. How could they have had so much evidence on Sandusky, including a psychologist’s report indicating Sandusky fit the pedophile profile, and let him get away scot-free?

And what’s the national media doing, for its part?

Somberly lecturing, saying that those who actually want facts and the continued pursuit of the full truth are suffering from collective guilt, misplaced defiance, blind loyalty and Paterno reverence.



Sports Illustrated has written at least four major pieces directly or indirectly relating to the Sandusky scandal, each of them misfiring. Below are synopses of the first three:

  • Story 1: From the immediate Sandusky aftermath last November. It hailed as heroes the high school teachers at nearby Central Mountain High who spoke to the grand jury about Sandusky (who taught and coached there for several years), for providing “unsparing and unambiguous answers,” to grand jury investigators, completely blind to the fact that these same people never reported Sandusky to administrators or went to the police themselves despite witnessing things such as Sandusky lying face-to-face on top of a boy on the floor of a workout room at the school, and saying they noticed Sandusky's “clingy” and “suspicious” behavior toward a boy. Yet they did nothing until the grand jury came to them.
  • Story 2: From the immediate aftermath of the Freeh Report and NCAA sanctions in late July, yet inexplicably it was absent any sort of critical analysis of the Freeh Report. Nor did it question or analyze some of the assertions about Penn State made by NCAA president Mark Emmert - many of them inarguably misguided or erroneous, such as his obviously faulty reasoning for using 1998 as the start date for forfeiting wins - when he issued the sanctions against PSU.
  • Story 3: A seemingly benign, friendly piece in late August about Bill O’Brien taking over the football program and the challenges he was tackling in the wake of all that has transpired. Yet the story took numerous unfounded potshots at Joe Paterno and the Penn State football program as it existed pre-scandal, characterizing it as an outdated, non-competitive relic, and ignoring the fact that PSU was a Top 10 BCS team in winning percentage during the final seven years of Paterno’s tenure, came within one play of undefeated seasons twice in that span (2005, ’08), and was 8-1 in the 2011 season, with the lone loss coming to national champion Alabama,when the scandal broke.

For insight, analysis and opinions about Penn State football, check, or follow Pete Young on Twitter @AllPSUfootball.

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