A Mind-Blowing Email Exchange With USA Today's Christine Brennan

One of the "reporters" who has been by far the most critical of Penn State and Joe Paterno during the Sandusky scandal has been Christine Brennan from USA Today (she even wrote a column warning Penn State not to honor Paterno with a moment of silence in the first game after his death).

This reality has been particularly aggravating for me personally because I used to be rather close to Christine (we sort of briefly dated) and I have actually had a fairly significant impact on her career. I gave her the title for her second book on figure skating and, in 1996, I convinced her that she needed to start covering golf (which she did) because there was an amateur golfer named Tiger Woods who was going to soon be the biggest sports star in the world.

For a variety of reasons, I have not communicated with Christine during the Penn State saga even though she was actually on the same Piers Morgan show I was on to discuss my interview with Jerry Sandusky (ironically, she was on to talk about Tiger Woods). However, after her piece criticizing the NCAA for reducing the sanctions, which was particularly vapid and obviously contrived to enable her to stake a claim to a prime piece of media real estate on the story, I decided I had to finally reach out to her.

What follows is, in the order in which it occurred, an email exchange which is so extraordinarily  jaw-dropping that it shocked even me (which, when it comes to the media reaction to this case, I didn't think was still possible). I share it here, without commentary, in the hopes that it will give you some insight as to how the media really operates and why they blew it so badly in this particular case.

Update: Here is an interview I did with Kevin Slaten about this exchange.

From: John Ziegler [[email protected]]
Sent: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 8:14 PM
To: Brennan, Christine
Subject: Penn State Column


I have restrained from emailing you prior to this during this saga for a variety
of reasons. I have been very disappointed in how utterly wrong you have been on
the Penn State story from the beginning.

Your most recent column was particularly humorous because, since you are a
liberal, your "law and order" perspective (and lack of respect for 'innocent
until proven guilty") is rather hypocritical. More importantly, your view is far
behind the flow of the evidence and is indicative that you are stuck in a time

I know you won't have the guts to answer me, but perhaps you should consider the
following facts:

Bob Costas, against his self-interest, says that Paterno was not involved in a
cover up (in my educated opinion, his full feelings are even stronger than that)

Frank Fina, the Sandusky prosecutor, told CBS, against his own interest, that
Paterno was not part of a cover up.

The NCAA has now told ESPN, against their own interest, that they rushed to
judgment because of outside pressures (the media) and would do things
differently if they had the chance.

What are you going to say when the three former administrators are not convicted
Christine? I am positive they are innocent. Otherwise, why would they have not
flipped on each other by now?

Don't you have the character to even ponder these questions?

John Ziegler

-----Original Message-----
From: Brennan, Christine <[email protected]>
To: John Ziegler <[email protected]>
Sent: Wed, Sep 25, 2013 9:15 am
Subject: RE: Penn State Column
Hi John,

Good to hear from you. Thanks for writing. We'll certainly agree to disagree on 
this one. You know I think long and hard about everything I say and do. That's 
why I'm fortunate enough to be doing what I'm doing now. Not a day goes by that 
I don't think of that. I take nothing for granted. You certainly know me well 
enough to know that.

If you read the column, you saw that I'm hopeful about Penn State, but the 
Corbett suit and the actions of others in the face of the worst scandal in 
college history certainly give me pause.

Just fyi, as you also know, I'm a registered Republican -- a liberal Republican, 
like Nixon, Ford, etc. -- so I think "law and order" is a consistent theme for 

Fun to "share" the Piers Morgan stage not long ago.

Take care, John.


From: John Ziegler [[email protected]]
Sent: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 1:08 PM
To: Brennan, Christine
Subject: Re: Penn State Column

Thanks Christine. I appreciate the response, but you didn't answer any of my

You are presuming a level of guilt here which makes no sense and is not
consistent with the known evidence.

Having spent a year and a half on this case, I can assure that almost everything
you think is true is at least somewhat wrong. I am now of the belief that even Jerry's
crimes, while obviously horrible, have also been portrayed inaccurately.

There are good reasons why Bob Costas changed his mind. When this is all over I
hope you will be the journalist you think of yourself as and do the same.

John Ziegler
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

-----Original Message-----
From: Brennan, Christine <[email protected]>
To: talktozig <[email protected]>
Sent: Wed, Sep 25, 2013 2:07 pm
Subject: RE: Penn State Column


Thanks, John. I'm very comfortable with my position and have received quite a 
bit of positive feedback on it, as well as all the hatred from the state of 
Pennsylvania, which I expected, of course. :) 

Take care,


-----Original Message-----
From: John Ziegler <[email protected]>
To: cbrennan <[email protected]>
Sent: Wed, Sep 25, 2013 2:36 pm
Subject: Re: Penn State Column


That's hilarious Christine. Are you seriously judging the validity of your position based on the praise you received from other people who also don't have a clue about the case and who have been brain-washed by others who are equally clueless in the media?! You really MUST be joking.
As for discounting the "hatred" (holy rationalization Batgirl!) from those in Pennsylvania, has it ever occurred to you that they know you are wrong not because of they were blinded by love of Penn State, but rather because they care enough about the issue to have actually researched the facts here?
I am quite positive that I know exponentially more about this story than you (and yet you have ZERO interest in finding out what I know, gee, I wonder why?) and I have no connection to Penn State and don't even like the Paternos. Why would I take this position, Christine? Why would Bob Costas? Why would the prosecutor in the Sandusky case?
You won't answer these questions because you can't. I had very low expectations for your responses here, but you have somehow managed to come up woefully and embarrassingly short.
I know it won't matter to you because you think it helped your career (apparently something which is far more important to you than the truth) but you are flat wrong about what happened here and it isn't even close. If there is any justice in this world (I doubt it), you will regret what you have done here.
Thanks for the laughs.
John Ziegler
-----Original Message-----
From: John Ziegler <[email protected]>
To: cbrennan <[email protected]>
Sent: Wed, Sep 25, 2013 5:38 pm
Subject: Re: Penn State Column
One last question that I doubt you will answer:
If after you wrote your book about the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan issue you had come to me and, without me having done any special investigation on my own, you told me that I was dead wrong that Harding was innocent , and I didn't want to hear what info you had to contradict my view because Tonya Harding fans were telling me that I was right, what kind of respect would you have for my perspective?
You obviously would have, rightly, had no respect for my view, and that is what you have left me to conclude about your view of the Penn State case.
John Ziegler

-----Original Message-----
From: "Brennan, Christine" <[email protected]>
Date: Thu, 26 Sep 2013 23:54:50
To: John Ziegler<[email protected]>
Subject: RE: Penn State Column


Have been out of town and just trying to get to dozens of e-mails (which I
likely will never get to as the next issue pops up). In this hypothetical, I
would respect you if you wanted to stick with your opinion. That would be fine
with me.

I respect your view on PSU but disagree with it. You disagree with mine. That's

Best wishes,


From: John Ziegler [[email protected]]
Sent: Friday, September 27, 2013 12:34 AM
To: Brennan, Christine
Subject: Re: Penn State Column

Thanks Christine. I appreciate the response and had figured I had heard the last
from you.

Knowing you like I think I do, I am rather confident that you would've had,
rightfully, zero respect for my opinion in that hypothetical.

I guess I'm most baffled that you don't even seem to want to know why I am so
confident about this. I have literally spoken to more key people here than Louis
Freeh and know more about this case than probably anyone in the world.

This case isn't really even close. I really wish you could see that. I doubt you
will take me up on it (though you have surprised me before) I would be happy to
speak to you about this.

I do appreciate your responding as I know you are very busy.



-----Original Message-----
From: Brennan, Christine <[email protected]>
To: talktozig <[email protected]>
Sent: Fri, Sep 27, 2013 10:33 am
Subject: RE: Penn State Column

Thanks, and I do care about this, but I also have other things to deal with, of 
course, as you know. That's the nature of what we all do. We move on. I have 
five college students to get back to today as a mentor. That's my focus this 
afternoon. I wish there were more time in the day. 

Someone sent me a post in which you put our personal e-mails online. No surprise 
to me, of course, since you did that before, and I was figuring you would again, 
but that is something that I would never do without checking with the person. It 
allowed you to go after a person who kindly e-mailed you back. That was the 
take-away of the person who sent it to me. Again, your call, of course. 

Take care, John.



-----Original Message-----
From: John Ziegler <[email protected]>
To: cbrennan <[email protected]>
Sent: Sat, Sep 28, 2013 12:34 am
Subject: Re: Penn State Column


Christine, your responses here, while appreciated, are truly baffling to me. This is especially so as they come from someone of your intelligence and stature.
As for for making public the emails, I honestly have no recollection of what you are talking about regarding have done that in the past and, since it has been many years since we exchanged email, I'm not even sure what the subject matter could have possibly been. I feel pretty confident that if I had said something you found worthy of putting in a column bashing Paterno supporters that you would have done the same with my responses.
More importantly, I wasn't asking you to speak to me about this case today (I get how busy you are). I doubt we ever will discuss it but the cavalier way in which you responded makes it seem as if you don't realize how much damage you have helped facilitate with your opinions based on a totally/fatally flawed view of this case. You hold a very powerful platform and have had a very significant impact on this story, and you you seem completely uninterested in becoming educated about it, even after your interview last year with Kevin Slaten should have shown you that this was gravely needed.
I will just leave you with some questions to ponder. For you to believe in any sort of cover-up here you really would need to have at least some semblence of legitimate answer for all of them.
If this was a cover-up...
Why isn't Mike McQueary claiming to be part of a cover-up in his lawsuit against PSU, even though it would be worth millions of dollars and you guys in the media would cheerlead for him? In other words, how do you have a cover-up without the only witness?
Whose idea was the cover-up? Was it Spanier, who is an abuse victim himself and got approved for a high-security clearance in the Obama administration after the story broke? If it was him, why haven't Curley or Schultz flipped on him? If it wasn't him, who goes to their highly-respected boss and suggests a criminal cover-up for an ex-employee no one liked? Why haven't any of them flipped on each other?
Why did none of the administrators get their own attorneys before their grand jury testimony when they surely knew the cover-up was in jeopardy? Why was McQueary not pressured to alter his testimony? Why did Paterno go out of his way to at least partly back up McQueary's testimony when if had just said "I can't remember" then the whole case (possibly even against Sandusky, believe it or not) falls apart? Why didn't Curley and Schultz even bother to get their stories remotely straight? Why didn't even one of them (including McQueary) could remember the correct YEAR in which this event happened?
Why were about a dozen people, including the person who oversaw the campus police force (which had jurisdiction) fully aware of the McQueary incident within just a couple of days of it happening? Why was the Second Mile later informed when they were a mandated reporter and could have easily blown the cover-up?
Why did Paterno grant Joe Posnanski full access to his life/program after McQueary had testified and he had to know that the "cover-up" was about to implode? Why did Posnanski not find a shred of evidence that Paterno knew Sandusky was a pedophile?
Christine, having listened to you do interviews of this subject it is very clear to me that you do not have a good handle on the facts here. You would be shocked to know how NOT a big deal the 1998 episode was (thus the mother of that boy allowing her son to have a totally incident free relationship with Sandusky for the next 12 years). You would also be shocked to know how strong the evidence is that the boy in the McQueary episode (who was 14 years old not 10 like you were told by the OAG) was never assaulted that night. The boy himself said this numerous times as an adult and neither he, nor his lawyers, have ever contradicted those declarative statements. It is my very strong opinion that McQueary, rather logicallly, simply changed his mind twice about what he thought he saw (for three seconds through a mirror) during the ten-year period of time.
You have already stated publicly that you will never change your mind on this (which, in itself is a remarkable statement from someone who claims to care about the truth and who clearly doesn't have strong hold of the facts of this case), but I wanted you to at least have every chance to understand just how badly you and the rest of the mindless, ratings-driven, media horde have blown this case.
While I know you will never do this, if you were to reexamine this story and come to a new, fact-based, conclusion you would actually have far more impact and, in the end, receive far more praise, than you ever could have previously in this story.
Take care,
John Ziegler

Christine, of course, never answered ANY on my questions. Interestingly, on this issue of publishing emails, my suspicions about Christine being the real hypocrite here were substantiated when a reader of "Framing Paterno" sent me his exchange with her and asked me to post it:

From: John Finegan [
[email protected]]
Sent: Sunday, September 29, 2013 10:37 PM
To: Brennan, Christine
Subject: formal apology

Do you plan to formally apologize for jumping to conclusions which seriously tarnished the reputation of a great man? It's understandable why you and the rest of the media and the NCAA and even the PSU Board of Trustees did this but it really is time to step up and admit you were wrong. Do the right thing, it'll be refreshing and clear your conscience.


From: "Brennan, Christine" <[email protected]>
Sent: Monday, September 30, 2013 7:14 AM
To: "
[email protected]" <[email protected]>
Subject: RE: formal apology


I'm a columnist. I give my opinion. This might shock you, but I think about things before I write them in 1.7 million newspapers and say them on national TV.

Are you saying all those young boys were not raped? Was Jerry Sandusky not at PSU? If nothing happened, why are there still sanctions?

Your reaction proves my point -- that PSU football fans still don't get it and can't see beyond the football, which was the problem in the first place.

Also, I often publish e-mails with the writer's name. I might use yours.

Best wishes,

Christine Brennan


From: "John Finegan" <[email protected]>
Sent: Monday, September 30, 2013 5:38 PM
To: "Brennan, Christine" <
[email protected]>
Subject: RE: formal apology

I'm a Penn State graduate. Jerry Sanddusky was convicted and I never said I disagreed with the jury on that. You and most of the media, the NCAA and the PSU Board of Trustees have convicted Joe Paterno of a cover up with scant evidence. Sanctions that penalized young players in 2013 - 2016 were the result of this rush to judgement. These young men had nothing to do with any of it, yet THEY pay the price. Sad that you can not see beyond your thirst to make a name for yourself by bringing down a great man and a great program that has done so much good over a half a century.

And go ahead and use my name; your threatening and defensive tone proves MY point.

John Finegan, Penn State, Ag, 1979