Tuesday, November 22, 2011

And now we begin to throw Joe Paterno under the bus

It was inevitable -- someone who once worked at Penn State would become the first person to be interviewed for a story in which the public learns about the less-flattering side of former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno.

Mind you, I'm not suggesting what is reported in this USA Today story or in this Wall Street Journal story is accurate (or inaccurate, for that matter); rather, I'm saying that such stories were going to be reported as soon as possible now that Paterno has been fired for his handling of the sexual assault scandal at the university.

And as you read the aforementioned stories, also note that journalists in and around State College are evaluating how rumors of the scandal seemed to be effectively controlled by Penn State's leaders. Gary Sinderson is a reporter at WJAC-TV. In this story that appears in TV News Check, he acknowledges that turning rumor into substance was difficult.
People ask, how could this go on for so long? I think Sandusky was secretly enabled by some of these people, who knew, kept silent and were interested in protecting their interests. I hope the next phase of the grand jury investigation focuses on the cover up.
Harrisburg Patriot-News reporter Sara Ganim, who broke the story of the grand jury investigation in March, worked here in Centre County for several years. We compared notes on the Sandusky issue. She did fine work and deserves the boatload of awards that will probably be coming her way. We both knew the truth of the story was in Harrisburg with the grand jury. The Patriot-News, to its credit, gave her the time necessary to work on the story.
Why couldn't I report it? I didn't have the time to get the needed verification to move the story ahead or to convince my bosses it's not a rumor, but a real story. It's just the nature of my particular job. I'm a one-man band, expected to crank out several stories a day. I may get a day or two to work on a large story, but not the time afforded to Ganim.
I could write a book about covering Penn State. You start with its dual nature. For years, if you wanted salaries or other financial information, the response was, we're a private institution. But when it comes to requesting state and federal financial assistance, then it's, oh  my, we're a public college.
Now, before anyone accuses me of being a Paterno apologist, please get your facts/opinions straight. I repeat, I am not attempting to elevate Paterno to saintly status, and I'm not seeking to undermine the credibility of the people who are speaking out against him.

Rather, I am saying that it was only a matter of time before these kinds of stories were disseminated. I leave it to each person to decide if they assist us in learning what Paterno was like as a person, as a coach, as a leader and as a man of character.

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