Kovacevic: The Paternos' sad, squeaky reply
I went in with an open mind. Honestly.
It felt like the right thing to do. If we were all melting down servers to download the Louis Freeh report a few months back and step through every sordid detail of the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky scandal, then it seemed fair — if still sickeningly distasteful — to revisit the matter Sunday through a new report commissioned by Joe Paterno's family.
In a letter to former Penn State football players last Friday, Sue Paterno, Joe's widow, promised this report would offer “a persuasive critique of the Freeh report as a total disservice to victims of Sandusky and the cause of preventing child sex offenses.”
Nothing wrong with that, I thought. Let's hear it.
And so, when the report was done downloading at around 9:30 a.m., all 238 pages, I began naturally with the cover page.
“CRITIQUE OF THE FREEH REPORT: THE RUSH TO INJUSTICE AGAINST JOE PATERNO.”
All right then. So much for the “victims” and the “cause.”
Onward I read …
Page 4: The Freeh Report was “a failure” and was “oversold to the public.”
Page 10: The Freeh Report relied on “rank speculation, innuendo, subjective opinions.”
Page 10: Freeh “produced a report under pressure, in a time-sensitive, emotionally charged, and difficult situation.”
Page 11: “We may never know if Mr. Freeh was motivated to pursue maximum publicity, to align his views with the media storyline already established.”
Didn't take long to get the point, at least as portrayed in this report: Freeh's work was flawed. Or maybe more fitting, “we may never know if” Freeh's work was flawed.
Is that it?
Speaking only for myself, for all the time and money and ink the Paterno family has invested in investigating the investigator, I'm still left with the same four questions that loomed largest in the first place:
1. What did Joe Paterno know?
2. When did Joe know it?
3. Even if Joe was only marginally aware of Sandusky's alleged assault of a young boy in the Lasch Building showers in 2001 — the incident infamously described by witness Mike McQueary — how could the coach not have done more than simply tell his bosses?
4. Even if Joe was only marginally aware of that incident, how could he have allowed Sandusky unfettered access to the Lasch Building for another decade?
None of that's addressed in the Paterno report, at least not from any standpoint beyond shooting the messenger Freeh.
Rather, it operates from the stunningly out-of-touch premise that Paterno is innocent until proven guilty. As if this were a court of law. As if pecking away at the prosecution is enough. As if all that's needed to acquit is to find one glove that doesn't fit.
Joseph Vincent Paterno is guilty.
He is guilty in the court of public opinion, the only one in which he'll ever be tried.
He is guilty from now until solid, substantive evidence emerges that might at least begin to answer those questions posed above.
This report needed to move hearts and minds. It did nothing of the kind. It merely wagged a finger at Freeh in a sad, squeaky sort of voice, quoting a few psychologists, poking a few holes and otherwise offering nothing new of any weight. No smoking gun. Not even smoke.
Here's an example: In combating Freeh's contention that Paterno and other Penn State officials showed “callous disregard” for children by not doing enough in 2001, the Paterno report responds: “The Freeh report does not cite a single email, conversation, handwritten note, calendar entry, voice mail, statement or other record evidence establishing that Joe Paterno was concerned about consequences of bad publicity associated with the incident.”
Yep, that's it. They got nothing, and neither do we.
Candidly, I don't care what Freeh might have botched. Not much, anyway. What I care about are those four questions up there. I care about why those weren't — or couldn't be — addressed in this report enough to satisfy anyone but the cardboard-cutout faction of Paterno partisans.
The doubt is what's real, and the doubt remains.
Understand, please, I take no issue with Sue Paterno. I believe her words in that letter to former players that, as a grandmother to 17, she finds it “incomprehensible that anyone could intentionally harm a child.” I believe her when she wrote, “I think of the victims daily, and I pray that God will heal their wounds and comfort their souls.”
I believe this, too, in regard to her reading about Joe in the Freeh Report: “I did not recognize the man Mr. Freeh described.”
Mrs. Paterno is 71. She and Joe were married half a century. She strove to clear her man's once-golden name.
This report didn't.
If anything, the case is more closed than ever.