Inside a ballroom in Center City’s Westin Hotel at Liberty Place yesterday morning, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Sara Ganim, 24, stood up to ask former FBI director Louis Freeh a question at his press conference.
Why, she wanted to know, did Freeh reach a different conclusion in how ousted Penn State president Graham Spanier and Joe Paterno handled Jerry Sandusky than the state attorney general’s office, then led by now Gov. Tom Corbett? Freeh declined comment.
But there was something else about the way Ganim phrased her question. “You’re from outside this area. Do you believe that the AG’s office might have been blinded by the culture of Paterno and Penn State?” she said.
Corbett’s critics claim he intentionally stalled the Sandusky investigation when he was attorney general for political gain. But as Politico reported yesterday, he denies those allegations, one of which was that he only assigned one investigator to the case. To date, there exists no evidence to indicate he’s lying.
Gamin’s questioning did not suggest Corbett knowingly covered up abuse. Instead, it suggests Corbett—like so many others, including the university’s Board of Trustees—were overshadowed by Spanier, Paterno, Tim Curley and Gary Schultz.
Did you catch that, Philly? We live in a state where a football coach was more powerful than an attorney general.
And as Pennsylvania taxpayers, we’ll pay the consequences of that messed-up culture, literally, with the civil suits against the state-related university. “[The men Sandusky abused] are gonna need wheelbarrows to carry all the money the juries are going to give them,” Jeffrey Toobin, a CNN legal analyst, told Anderson Cooper last night.
If there was any fear that Freeh’s investigation would be biased since Penn State paid for it, that fear was squashed Thursday morning as reporters scrolled through the PDF download on their laptops. The Penn State Board of Trustees proved itself criminally inadequate in its lack of leadership in handling Sandusky, according to the Freeh report.
But to the board’s credit, its members appear to accept responsibility for, as Freeh put it, “equally failing” the university. (The Archdiocese of Philadelphia, in contrast, has yet to make its internal investigation of child sex abuse public, despite placing accused priests back in parishes.) “The Board of Trustees acknowledges that it failed to create an environment of accountability and transparency and did not have optimal reporting procedures or committee structures,” board members released in a statement.
Should board members resign? Of course, but not all of them. As Wendy Silverwood of Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship told me after the press conference: “Some of those guys play the same 18 holes and hit the same cocktail circuit as Spanier did. And you mean to tell me they didn’t know? Come on.”
But the board is now the only entity admitting wrongdoing. The Paterno family, Curley, Schultz and Spanier each dispute the report. And Corbett wouldn’t be bothered at a press conference with any questioning on the matter. “Why are you all obsessed with that?” he said, when asked about it. “Every university, school, business and individual has an obligation to follow up and report such cases.”
As do elected officials. For Happy Valley to matter more than Harrisburg must never happen again.
Last November, a thousand students flooded Old Main. “Fuck Graham Spanier,” they chanted. Dozens of reporters surrounded the stately administration building’s back lot. Photographers lined the exits. He emerged through a bush hunched over and beelined for a getaway van ahead of any reporters.
Somehow, Spanier escaped. For that, he can thank the Governor.