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Media Malpractice Again: An E-mail Exchange With USA Today Which Will Blow Your Mind

There is probably no greater proof of the utter insanity of this entire upside-down story than that by far the most favorable mainstream media coverage of "Penn State" in the Sandusky story is perhaps the most obvious example of "media malpractice" in this entire saga.

I am referring to the column posted by USA Today this week by Jeffery Sonnenfeld which read literally like a love letter to the Penn State Board of Trustees. Here is that column which, to anyone who has been following the story, seemed like a parody:


Even before we knew of the very extensive "relationship" between Sonnenfeld and Richard Edelman (who runs the PR firm the PSU BOT hired to try and put perfume on their stink), many Penn Staters immediately realized that something was clearly "up."

As usual, I tried to find out what was going on and to inform USA Today that they had a problem. Here, in order, is the rather remarkable (hilarious?) e-mail exchange I had with two of the opinion page editors there.


-----Original Message-----
From: John Ziegler <[email protected]>
To: bgallagher <[email protected]>; gnishimura <[email protected]>; erivers <[email protected]>
Sent: Wed, Feb 19, 2014 9:18 pm
Subject: Outrageous Conflict of Interest in USA Today Column


Dear Bruce, Glen and Eileen:
I have been studying the Sandusky scandal for over two years (I have appeared live on the Today Show to discuss my prison interview with Jerry Sandusky and released a free film and book on the case). I have seen a ton of "media malpractice" in this case but the column you guys ran today may very well be the worst example of horrendous reporting I have ever seen.
I am referring to this column by Jeffrey Sonnenfeld:
Anyone who remotely knows the facts of this case (as seen in the comments section of the column) would see this column as a flat out parody and truly hilariously ignorant of reality. Sonnenfeld is clearly (at best) clueless about what has really transpired within the PSU BOT in this crisis.
Such incompetence would be bad enough, but it turns out that this is the least egregious element of this column. It turns out that Sonnenfeld has a MASSIVE conflict of interest which should have easily disqualified him from being allowed to write about this case in your pages.
Richard Edelman runs the PR firm that the the PSU BOT hired to convince people that they didn't really completely screw this whole situation up. As this this write up from Edleman shows, he and Sonnenfeld are "friends and classmates."
How in the world was he allowed to write such a piece of fiction in your paper, especially with such an obvious conflict of interest?
Will you be apologizing for this miscarriages of journalism?


-----Original Message-----
From: John Ziegler <[email protected]>
To: bgallagher <[email protected]>; gnishimura <[email protected]>; erivers <[email protected]>
Sent: Thu, Feb 20, 2014 12:13 pm
Subject: The Smoking Gun that you were had on your Penn State column


Yesterday I wrote to all of you about what an utter sham/disgrace the column you ran about the Penn State BOT was. None of you responded. Today we have found further, indisputable, evidence that you were had by the columnist and this is a scandal which demands a retraction and an apology.
Here is a strategy posting from the the PR firm which the PSU BOT hired to remake their image. It is written by Richard Edelman who runs the firm and is a friend/classmate of your writer. Here is the link:
Note these words related to how they plan to use the person (Sonnefeld) who wrote your column:
We will visit national media, stories on first anniversaries we have to shape… Stand up specific set of allies—those people always called by NYT, CNN, etc. eg Sonnefeld re governance. Then when he goes on TV he’ll say good things about Penn State.
This is outrageous and will surely be the subject of journalism watchdog groups unless you retract and apologize immediately.
Thank you,
John Ziegler
-----Original Message-----
From: Nishimura, Glen <[email protected]>
To: John Ziegler <[email protected]>
Sent: Thu, Feb 20, 2014 12:26 pm
Subject: RE: The Smoking Gun that you were had on your Penn State column

Mr. Ziegler: We are not ignoring your message. We are looking into the matter and we’ll get back to you. In fact, can you send me your phone number?


-----Original Message-----
From: John Ziegler <[email protected]>
To: gnishimu <[email protected]>
Sent: Thu, Feb 20, 2014 1:05 pm
Subject: Re: The Smoking Gun that you were had on your Penn State column


You need to look at this video at 2:20:45 mark to see Edleman discussing with PSU BOT how they can use Sonnefeld. This is a real scandal you guys are involved with here.
-----Original Message-----
From: Gallagher, Brian <[email protected]>
To: John Ziegler <[email protected]>
Sent: Thu, Feb 20, 2014 6:06 pm
Subject: RE: Outrageous Conflict of Interest in USA Today Column

Dear Mr. Ziegler,


The question raised by your complaint is an interesting one. There is no allegation of any specific factual error, which we would correct without hesitation, and you’ve offered no evidence of a quid pro quo between Edelman and Sonnenfeld, which we would readily disclose. So we spent the day looking for evidence of one, without success. Sonnenfeld specifically asserts that he has no financial relationship with either Edelman or Penn State, that the opinion was his own and that it was not solicited by Edelman. He can’t prove a negative, of course, but we have found no evidence to the contrary.

That leaves the question of whether a long friendship with Edelman should disqualify Sonnenfeld from commenting on the subject. If he had no independent credential, that would be a problem, but he plainly does have one. A highly qualified management expert using a contemporary case to make a well-argued point about crisis management – not just about Penn State – has value. Had there been no credential, there would have been no column.

No doubt, the column serves Edelman’s interests, as the video you provided makes clear. But that does not prove that Sonnenfeld was doing Edelman’s bidding. Certainly it is common for PR shops to hire people to peddle their wares, but it is also common for them to seek out people who already independently share their opinions. So far, I see nothing to prove that this is a case of the former. That is a conspiracy theory. If you can prove it, I’d be interested.

One important bit of context on that point: Our own editorials have been sharply critical of Penn State’s handling of the Sandusky problem from the moment the story broke, to Edelman’s frustration. That is another reason why the Sonnenfeld piece was appealing to us. Our overarching goal is to provide a wide range of opinions to readers on a variety of subjects – particularly including those that are at odds with our own.

Therefore, absent further evidence, I see no reason for an apology or a retraction. What I see here is a sharp difference of perspective. That leads to an energized discussion. No harm there.




Brian Gallagher

Editorial page editor



-----Original Message-----
From: John Ziegler <[email protected]>
To: bgallagh <[email protected]>
Sent: Thu, Feb 20, 2014 10:11 pm
Subject: Re: Outrageous Conflict of Interest in USA Today Column


Brian, I asked you if we could have a conversation and I would still like that to happen, but I feel the need to respond to your seemingly very strange "conclusions" about this situation. If you have nearly as much information about this case as I do (or as the negative commentators to the op-ed piece do) I have to believe you would be embarrassed by your stance here.
First of all, you prematurely cite that I made no claims of factual inaccuracy with the implication being that there weren't any problems in that realm. The reality is that the entire column is based is a colossal falsehood and so I didn't even bother to address that at first because the conflict of interest was so obvious and so easily proven.
For the record, the factual fallacy with the foundation of the column is that it presumes that Penn State (to which, unlike Sonnenfeld has to Edelman, I have no connection) was indeed "guilty" in the Sandusky scandal. Sonnenfeld writes: "The board examined the facts, and saw the failures of oversight and inadequate protection of children. They faced a classic recovery dilemma, and courageously made the right choice."
This statement is demonstratively false in every way. Sonnenfeld is essentially writing a glowing softball piece about the O.J. Simpson jurors because he somehow thinks that OJ was innocent.
The board did not examine any "facts" before it fired Joe Paterno and (essentially) Graham Spanier. It looked at a 23-page grand jury presentment (a notoriously flawed document) which we now know was grossly inaccurate and extremely biased. After the board essentially prematurely pled "guilty" on behalf of Paterno, Spanier, Curley, Schultz, and, yes, Sandusky, they then had to justify this media-induced rush to judgement to their alumni. That is how they hired Louis Freeh who is in no way shape or form worthy of Sonnenfeld's laudatory description (are you aware that he has had the results of at least three major investigations overturned? Are you aware that Bob Costas, among many others, has said he no longer believes the conclusions of the Freeh Report?). He was paid $6.5 million and just happened to give the board the exact conclusions that they wanted and the board has continued this charade in order to justify their "original sins" of this case. Freeh's conclusions are contrary to the entirety of the factual record and will be destroyed (even more than they already have been) if the three former administrators ever go to trial.
While there are hundreds of facts could give you to prove that Freeh's report is a fraud, I will give you just one very simple one: If there was a cover up at Penn State for Sandusky, why was Mike McQueary not given the open job at the time of the infamous incident (he got the exact same job three years later) and why is he not even alleging a cover up in his lawsuit against Penn State, even though it would be worth huge bucks to him and he now has nothing to lose? Are we to believe that this cover up did not include the only witness? (BTW, the Sandusky prosecutor Frank Fina has told 60 Minutes that he also disagrees with the Freeh Report because he says Paterno was not involved in a cover up).
As for the conflict of interest issue, I find your "logic" to be hilarious. So are you suggesting that the standard of proof here is producing a canceled check?
Not only are the two of them friends and classmates, but we have a video of Edelman flat-out PROMISING the PSU BOT that Sonnefeld will "say nice things about Penn State" well over a year before this column gets written. Then there is this link (where, for some strange reason, the actual article has been scrubbed) to an article that the two of them wrote together: http://som.yale.edu/news/news/ceo-chief-reputation-officer-according-article-authored-jeffrey-sonnenfeld-and-richard
As for his "credential," he has absolutely ZERO special information or experience regarding this case EXCEPT his relationship with the guy who runs the PR firm which the BOT hired!
Think about it this way... I doubt VERY seriously that if Sonnenfeld, with zero direct connection to the situation, wrote an op-ed about the Chris Christie "bridge-gate" story and wrote about how wonderfully he handled it and then it turned out that there was a video of Christie's press secretary saying over a year ago "if we ever get in trouble, let's make sure we call on Sonnenfeld because he will say nice things about us," that you guys wouldn't have been forced by a media firestorm to retract and apologize. But make no mistake, that is was a very good analogy for what happened here.
You say that you favor "energized discussion." If this is really true, I ask you to let me write a rebuttal to this piece from the perspective of another outsider, but one who actually has an extreme amount of real knowledge of this situation and no conflicts of interest.
Thank you for your consideration.
-----Original Message-----
From: John Ziegler <[email protected]>
To: bgallagh <[email protected]>
Sent: Fri, Feb 21, 2014 10:25 am
Subject: Re: Outrageous Conflict of Interest in USA Today Column
Brian, since I haven't heard back from you as of yet, I wanted to update you on what else some Penn Staters have found about the relationship between Edelman and Sonnefeld. All the links below are each of them praising the other or Sonnenfeld praising (purely by coincidence I am sure) Edelman's clients:
Obviously this is simply just not enough proof to prove a serious conflict of interest or totally undermine Sonnenfeld's alleged credibility. Sarcasm aside, of course the ultimate irony here is that the entire basis of the Penn State's "guilt" in the Sandusky matter are a couple of incredibly vague/old emails which don't reveal anywhere near as much about the real situation as these easily accessible internet links do about the true nature of the Edelman/Sonnenfeld relationship.
-----Original Message-----
From: Gallagher, Brian <[email protected]>
To: John Ziegler <[email protected]>
Sent: Fri, Feb 21, 2014 11:31 am
Subject: Re: Outrageous Conflict of Interest in USA Today Column
I'm tied up with personal matters today so can't talk, but the added information 
only reinforces my earlier conclusions. This is all about differing opinions on 
various issues.
Sonnenfeld's opinion differs from both yours and mine, but I still see no reason 
to muzzle him. You see a conspiracy in it. I think the likelier explanation is 
that they're old friends who share a point of view, which is far from unusual. 
The new material supports that theme.
It's time to move on, I think. There are more interesting aspects of the story 
than the quality of the crisis management.

Brian Gallagher

Sent from my iPhone


-----Original Message-----
From: John Ziegler <[email protected]>
To: bgallagh <[email protected]>
Sent: Fri, Feb 21, 2014 12:07 pm
Subject: Re: Outrageous Conflict of Interest in USA Today Column
Brian, thanks for the response. I really wish you understood how hilarious what you just wrote is.
I have shown you extreme proof that Edelman and Sonnenfeld clearly have a long history of supporting each other's causes and that Edelman promised the PSU BOT he would support them. You claim I am a conspiracy theorist. That is hilarious because the alleged PSU Sandusky "conspiracy" was built on FAR less.
You then say that this obvious conflict of interest isn't enough to "muzzle" Sonnenfeld, as if he has an inherent right to write on your opinion page even though he has absolutely no special (or even rudimentary) knowledge of this case. Are you "muzzling" me because you refuse to let me rebut his claims (when I have far more knowledge/standing in the case than he does)?
Finally, you say we need to "move on." If you knew anything about the case you would realize the irony/humor in that because that is the phrase that the PSU BOT used to try and get alumni not to keep looking at their obvious mistakes. I sense that you are using it in exactly the same way.
Thanks for your time and for the laughs. You and the rest of the MSM continue to miss the reality that what REALLY happened at PSU is the most amazing story you could ever imagine, but you all are too dense/afraid to realize it.
Take care,

Update: Penn Stater Dave Ketchen has found a citation in a book which indicates that this is not the first time that Sonnenfeld has pulled a scam on USA Today: