Media reactions to the Freeh Report

Revelations force turnarounds from journalists

Media coverage of the 267-page Freeh Report on the Penn State child abuse coverup hasn’t stopped since it was released Thursday. The Freeh Report is the result of an independent investigation by the lawyer Louis Freeh into the actions of Penn State officials who worked with Jerry Sandusky, an assistant football coach at the university. The Washington Post live-blogged events as they unfolded, while CNN rounded-up social media reactions in the aftermath of the release.

As conclusions from the report had time to sink in, Joseph Paterno, the late Penn State football coach supporters affectionately called JoPa, became universally known of as an “enabler” to the greater crimes of his assistant Sandusky, who was convicted of multiple child abuse cases last month and is expected to be sentenced in late summer or early fall.

The extent of the report’s condemnation of Paterno forced hasty turnarounds from journalists who previously cast the former coach as a hapless bystander.

In the last interview before Paterno’s death, The Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins asked, “How did so many people miss a potential problem like this?” Paterno answered, “I don’t know the answer to that Sally, I don’t know.”

Jenkins also wrote a sympathetic, five-page article which described Paterno as “wracked by radiation and chemotherapy, in a wheelchair with a broken pelvis, and ‘shocked and saddened’ as he struggles to explain a breakdown of devastating proportions.”

But in a fierce takedown published after the Freeh Report, Jenkins writes angrily that Paterno was “no more interested in the truth than Walt Disney.” Meanwhile, Michael Weinreb of sports website Grantland describes his prior unwillingness to admit Paterno’s guilt as “my fundamental mistake. This was our mistake, as a community.” Dan Wetzel, writing for Yahoo, recalls a line from the report that accuses Paterno and the other Penn State officials of a “callous and shocking disregard for child victims,” and concludes: “This is line one of Paterno’s legacy… There isn’t any way around it.”

The hand wringing is representative of a much broader failure to recognize that Sandusky could not have continued his attacks on minors for so long had he not been protected by his colleagues - colleagues so revered by the media that few journalists proved capable of looking beyond their reputations. One who did - Sara Ganim of the Patriot-News - said that her Pulitzer Prize winning reporting of the story was hampered by a closed-record policy at Penn State, which prevented her from accessing documents that could have proved crucial. She told Al Tompkins of Poynter, “Everything is what you get from people, and there is such a degree of loyalty that prosecutors have even been thrown off by it.”

While there are lessons to be learned about transparency and trust going forward, almost everyone agrees that the Freeh report brings the Penn State scandal to a close.

“There is no benefit of the doubt any longer because, well, because there should no longer be any doubt,” wrote Jim Litke, a national sports columnist for the Associated Press. A fellow columnist at The Washington Post, Tracee Hamilton, agrees. “If you were a doubter till the bitter end, this is that bitter end,” she writes.

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Hazel Sheffield is a former assistant editor at CJR. Follow her on Twitter @hazelsheffield. Tags: , , ,