A Case Study in Media Malpractice: The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Obviously, I have made it very clear that the media coverage surrounding the entire Sandusky scandal has been both pathetic and maliciously inaccurate. I have also stated many times that our efforts to combat the fortress which the mainstream media has constructed around their mythological narrative have been forced to fight “up-hill, into-the-wind, on ice, with lead bricks around our feet.” There are many excruciating examples of this frustrating reality, but I want to share one particularly galling example so they you may know exactly what we are up against and how the media really works (or, in most cases, doesn’t).
There could be no better (or worse) case study of this phenomenon than what has happened recently with my interaction with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review newspaper.
For the past several months I have been in conversations with their Penn State beat writer Scott Brown about what I have learned regarding this story and why the conventional wisdom on it is wrong. Brown has been the only mainstream reporter I have extensively engaged who seems to fully understand this reality. Many times he has publicly tweeted support for me and our cause.
As I was getting ready to release my free online book, I was hoping to find a “mainstream” outlet to which I could provide an exclusive first look at the book’s contents, including the three and half hours of my interview with Jerry Sandusky and the never-before-seen interview that Joe Paterno did with the attorney general’s office just before the story broke nationally (this is critical to controlling the narrative because the first mainstream article on any subject like this tends to dictate to the rest of the lazy media how to react). Scott seemed a natural fit to make that happen and when I proposed the idea to him he, on two separate occasions, enthusiastically said that he would write an article about the exclusive information we were releasing.
However, as we quickly got closer to my release date, my “spidey senses” were telling me that something was very wrong. Scott was extremely impressed with the impactful nature of what we were releasing but I had a strong feeling that his bosses were giving him a hard time. I came to this perspective not just because of the well-earned paranoia which being continually screwed by the media has given me, but also because of what I learned about Scott’s editor.
Under “normal” circumstances I knew that what I was offering their paper would be considered a big scoop. But I also knew that the pressure to not stray from the rest of the media’s narrative here would be immense. However, when Scott told me that his editor was a big Joe Paterno fan, I knew that we were in serious trouble.
As bizarre as that may sound, it actually makes perfect sense. You see, because his editor was a Paterno ‘”fan,” he was actually far less likely to take a risk and publish something “Pro-Paterno.” This is because if it somehow blows up in his face he has no “cover” and could end up being greatly harmed professionally (which is all that cowardly media types care about these days).
Sure enough, Scott informed me that his editor was unimpressed with the importance of the Paterno interview (huh?) and seemed to indicate to him that I was not enough of a celebrity for this information to be seen as important. He also started putting up all sorts of logistical obstacles in the way of publishing an article, like making sure that the authenticity of the interview was more than just verified. But even when Scott got much further than any other outlet that would later end up writing about it and had the Paterno camp itself confirm its legitimacy, suddenly that was supposedly still not enough.
You see one of the most nefarious elements of the media is that all standards are inherently subjective and therefore if someone doesn’t want to run a story which threatens them or their agenda they can always find an excuse not to (as well as vice versa). It was obvious to me that this was exactly what was happening and when, sure enough, the paper inexplicably “passed” at the last minute and Scott was not able to fulfill his promise, I was understandably as furious as I was, sadly, not surprised.
To Scott’s credit (I don’t blame him for what happened here except that I think, out of fear that I was correct in my pessimistic prediction to him, he was far too late in fully admitting what was going on so that I might have been able to pursue other options), he did write a blog post about the book here, but that was nothing in comparison to what the paper’s coverage of this should have been.
But believe it or not, this result was only the beginning of the outrageousness displayed by the Tribune.
Their columnist Dejan Kovacevic (who has been rabidly anti-Paterno since the beginning and who once started/ended a “debate” with me on Twitter because I didn’t respond in five minutes in the middle of the night) wrote yet another fact-free missive ripping Franco Harris and me for our efforts in this case. He specifically even referenced (and grossly misinterpreted) the Paterno interview I released, which by now had been prominently written about by numerous outlets around the country.
This created the insane-making circumstances that the very paper to whom I tried to give the interview as “news,” and which rejected it because their editor somehow supposedly didn’t think it was “news,” was now publishing blatant hit pieces on me while overtly promoting/mischaracterizing the very evidence they allegedly didn’t think was newsworthy to begin with!
To make matters worse, I was now in Yosemite National Park on a family vacation where bear sightings are only slightly less common than cell phone reception strong enough to fully capture a website article. Eventually I was able to read the absurd piece by Kovacevic and while I was infuriated I also laughed at how widely he had opened the door for me to respond in a way which could turn the entire affair into a net positive. He had directly asked in his column why I would have released the Paterno interview, and so I quickly seized on that apparent blunder and wrote an email to the Tribune editor.
Here is the full exchange which ensued:
From: John Ziegler [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Monday, July 22, 2013 7:07 PM
To: Richard Maas
Subject: Re: I'm Attacked in your paper today
Ok. I finally was able to access the column on my blackberry here in Yosemite and I think I have a solution. Dejan specifically asks "who knows why (framingpaterno.com) put the (Paterno) interview out?"
How about you agree to publish a respectful column from me directly answering that question?
That would seem to be very little to ask for under the circumstances.
Can we do that?
From: Richard Maas <[email protected]>
Date: Mon, 22 Jul 2013 19:27:42
Subject: RE: I'm Attacked in your paper today
I will not agree to publish something without reviewing it first. If you want to write a commentary to answer that question, I will be willing to consider it.
On Jul 22, 2013, at 7:35 PM, "John Ziegler" <[email protected]> wrote:
Duke, to be clear, I am obviously not asking you to "agree," to publish something you haven't seen. I am asking you to agree to that concept. Otherwise I will be forced, based on "fool me once, fool me twice..." to presume I will be wasting my time and you will just concoct some reason not to publish it.
So, if I write a respectful/factual column answering that question, would it be your intention to publish it? If so, how many words are we talking about?
Thanks for your consideration.
From: Richard Maas
To: Mr. John Ziegler
Subject: Re: I'm Attacked in your paper today
Sent: Jul 22, 2013 4:52 PM
If your commentary is respectful and based on accurate information, it has a good chance of being published. Ir also needs to be well-organized, written clearly and engaging enough to retain readers. Keep it focused and on point. No longer than one of our staff commentaries. The shorter the better chance we will make space for it.
To: Richard Maas
Subject: Requested Column Submission
Sent: Jul 22, 2013 7:06 PM
Thanks Duke. I will take your word on that. Keep in mind I wrote this on a blackberry while camping, any grammatical/typographical edits are obviously fine.
I think this should work. Let me know your thoughts.
"Who Knows Why FramingPaterno.com Put It Out?"
That was a question recently asked by Tribune columnist Dejan Kovacevic as he made his case that "Paterno wackos" were hindering Penn State's attempt to reduce the NCAA sanctions, which were issued one year ago in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
Specifically, he was referring to a never-before-seen interview Joe Paterno did with the attorney general's office two weeks before he was fired. The interview was released on my website (the word "framing" is not literal, but figurative) as part of a free online book I just put out.
Therefore, I am the only person on the planet qualified to answer Kovacevic's question and I am eager to set the record straight.
The reason Kovacevic is confused about why a "pro-Paterno" website would release the Paterno interview is that he thinks that it seals the case against him for being culpable for Sandusky's crimes. However, this conclusion is extremely misguided for several reasons.
First, my goal here is to find the truth of what happened and not, as was proven by Scott Paterno denouncing my recent prison interview with Sandusky, motivated by a blind attempt to "exonerate" Joe Paterno at all costs.
Secondly, the interview is indeed "extraordinary" as Kovacevic described it, but for very different reasons than he believes.
In the interview Paterno makes it very clear that then Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley never got back to him after Paterno told him about his infamous conversation with Mike McQueary. This statement, made at a time when Paterno had neither the motive nor the knowledge to lie, directly contradicts a key email used later by Louis Freeh to build his, I believe, bogus cover-up narrative. Since the attorney general's office was in very close contact with Freeh, it also raises the specter of Freeh purposely withholding critical evidence which contradicted his fragile theory.
Thirdly, Paterno is clearly joking around at the end of the interview and obviously has no idea what is about to hit him. This shows no consciousness of guilt consistent with a "cover-up" which was now inevitably about to be blown to bits (had it actually existed).
Fourth, the portion of the interview which Kovacevic and other anti-Paterno members of the media have claimed proves Paterno's "guilt" (where he makes it clear in 2011 that he thinks McQueary told him ten years earlier that the event was "sexual"), is greatly misunderstood.
There are several reasons why the Paterno/McQueary conversation is not nearly as significant as the media would like you to believe.
First, Paterno's interview is ten years after the fact (he has absolutely no idea even what year the conversation took place) and it is more than plausible that McQueary "mis- refreshed" the 84-year-old Paterno's recollection of what was said in order to make sure that it conformed to Mike's already-given testimony.
Secondly, McQueary was just a three-second, through-a-mirror, witness to an event which, according to a November 9th, 2011 statement from the alleged victim in that episode (which was also exclusively released on our website) was not remotely sexual.
This was only the very beginning of an investigation, one in which it is now clear Paterno took no part in because he, rightly, did not see it as his proper place.
It is obvious that Tim Curley was convinced by his later, and far more important conversation, with Jerry Sandusky that nothing criminal happened that particular night (in large part because Sandusky knew the almost 14-year-old boy would confirm his version of events).
Based on the victim's repeated public statements on this matter, it is more than likely that Curley's assessment was actually, contrary to the overwhelming public perception, correct. Even the "hanging" Sandusky jury found him unanimously "not guilty" in the worst charge involving that episode, mostly because the victim was suspiciously never called by the prosecution (obviously Sandusky can be a pedophile but not have committed a crime every time he was alone with a boy).
The bottom line here is that this entire saga is far more complex than those in the media seem willing to admit, and the case against Joe Paterno is far from remotely proven.
John Ziegler is a documentary filmmaker who runs the website
www.FramingPaterno.com He is a graduate of Georgetown University.
I want to point out a few important elements of that exchange. First, in a remotely rational world, when a columnist asked a specific question of someone whom he didn’t bother to contact for his story, and that person (who happens to have played a significant part in the story) asks for a chance to simply answer the question, then obviously any sense of fair journalism would dictate that they get every opportunity to do that.
Secondly, especially considering that I wrote that proposed column on my Blackberry in about an hour while camping, I strongly feel that that it fit perfectly within the guidelines of what the editor had asked for. I also know that it was exponentially more factual than what Kovacevic had written.
I also was rather confident that they would never publish it. What I didn’t know was what excuse they were going to come up with to kill it.
When I didn’t hear anything from the editor over 24 hours later, I knew that he was still trying to concoct some way out of this situation for himself (again, the truth/journalism/fairness are not remotely factors here). I dropped him another email and asked him what was up. The next morning I was informed (not asked) that he had decided to significantly edit the piece and publish it as a letter to the editor and not, as we had clearly discussed, as a guest column.
Having been right once again about just how evil this media people are, I laughed when I read the message.
I also immediately told him that was never part of our “deal” and that I had no trust in his ability to edit the piece or any interest in a letter to the editor which would greatly diminish the impact of what I had to say (which was obviously the intent since publishing what I wrote as a column would have exposed Kovacevic as the fraud that he is). I told the editor that I was officially pulling the piece and asked, purely out of hopes of getting another laugh, what the explanation for his decision was.
I wasn’t disappointed.
He told me that the column I had written was too “self promoting.” That is a direct quote. Forgetting the fact that all references to the me and the website were critical for understanding the context of the information provided in the column, if he really felt that way then such elements could easily have been edited to their satisfaction. The reality is that they didn’t want to publish the piece and after over a day of trying to come up with an excuse, that ridiculous attempt was simply the best he could come up with.
I then responded by thanking the editor for the laughs and that I hoped he eventually got what cowards like him deserve.
There are several reasons that I think this story is vitally important, far beyond my own personal efforts for the truth here. One of them is for you to understand the real-world impact of Scott Paterno largely accepting the basic media narrative of what happened in this story (that McQueary is telling the full truth and that Sandusky was a “monster” raping boys all over campus). Because of that, all efforts at full exoneration through the mainstream media are now hopeless.
We saw this reality very clearly in the recent comments by Bob Costas on the Tonight Show in which he and Jay Leno both expressed serious doubts that Joe Paterno actively took part in a cover up. While obviously a positive development, Costas put so many unnecessary disclaimers on the statement as to make it obvious that “exoneration” is off the table. Scott Paterno’s misguided strategy has just not allowed there to be any “cover” for people like Costas to take a huge risk and argue for anything more than what I have referred to as “probation into perpetuity.”
Having communicated with Costas quite a bit, I am pretty confident that his real opinions are stronger than what he has publicly communicated, but thanks largely to Scott Paterno's strategy, there is just no way he is ever going to go that far out on a limb, at least not until there are some significant court victories.
UPDATE: I just spoke to Scott Brown and he has a LOT to add to this story. He says that:
Everything I said here is accurate and the editors didn't have a clue about the facts of this case.
Dejan Kovacevic needs to be exposed for what he is really all about.
He was recently told by his boss to stop tweeting about Penn State except for "on field" issues.
He is leaving the Tribune to take a job (rather ironically) at ESPN.