You all know him by now. John Ziegler — the iconoclastic, former talk radio hosting, ex-Christine Brennan dating filmmaker — is back for another round of 10 questions. Love him or hate him, there’s no question Ziegler has been one of the loudest outside voices on the Sandusky situation from the beginning and has a mini-movie and an online book to show for it.
Onward State: There was a rather public disagreement between you and the PS4RS group recently where you decided to stop posting in its 10,000 member closed Facebook group. Can you explain what happened and discuss your current thoughts on PS4RS?
John Ziegler: This situation may seem silly or petty from the outside, but it actually is emblematic of so much of what has happened in this entire saga.
I strongly believe that the vote by the PSU BOT to approve the Sandusky settlements was both wrong and premature. They were not based in truth/fact and Penn State has absolutely no responsibility for the vast majority of victims, some of whom I am convinced have bogus claims to begin with. They also have been implemented by Penn State in a way which I am quite certain will, as they obviously intended, have a devastating impact on the ability of the three former administrators to get a fair trial.
PS4RS, which was created because of this general issue, not only hasn’t condemned the BOT members they helped get elected for voting for the settlements, they proactively censored the posts of me and a couple of my colleagues because we were educating their membership about what really happened here. Three of us decided, in writing, to stop posting there in protest. Unfortunately, I was the only one who carried through on the protest.
It is clear to me that the PS4RS leadership has gotten exposed by this issue as being a political organization which has many of the same qualities it was formed to combat. They are afraid to criticize, or even let others criticize, those BOT members it helped get elected, even on the most important issue the board has decided in at least the last year. This becomes particularly hilarious when they then complain about the BOT cracking down on free speech.
The membership of PS4RS has been great to me and most of the most active members are on my mailing list already. My problem is not with them. My issue is with their leadership which I strongly think blew it here and this cause may be permanently debilitated because of it. After all, forever more, the other side will be able to say that Penn State, unanimously and without objection, took responsibility for almost 30 victims to the tune of $60 million under the watch of Joe Paterno. That is now a permanent and illegitimate mark which can now never be erased or even really mitigated.
OS: In that same grain, I’m sure you followed the “March for Truth” during the last Board of Trustees meeting. Do you think that march — I suppose it was more of a rally than a march — was effective? Are these type of demonstrations the right way to go to ensure “the truth” is told?
JZ: The “March 4 Truth” actually began, ironically, as an effort, started by me, to buy a full page ad in the CDT protesting the settlements. However, that idea broke down for a variety of reasons and it evolved, without me, into something else. I think the effort was certainly sincere and, under the circumstances, done about as well as it could have been. Seeing Franco Harris in his “Tiananmen Square” moment was priceless.
I think these types of things are important because it reminds people that there are those of us who are still fighting and who won’t go away. I wish our side had been able to do more of this sooner so that the public would better understand that there is another side to the story, but unfortunately most people, especially students, were so intimidated after the media backlash to the “riot” after Paterno’s firing that this hasn’t happened.
Were any minds changed? I doubt it. Did those who want to mock our side get another chance to do so? I guess. But I am glad it went forward if only so that we got that photo of Franco Harris blocking the BOT van.
OS: One of the biggest revelations to your cause since we last spoke was Sandusky prosecutor Frank Fina saying there was no evidence that Joe Paterno was involved in a cover up in a CBS interview with Armen Keteyian. What are your thoughts on that interview? You and Keteyian got into it a little bit on Twitter.
JZ: I did two rather crude but hopefully effective video breakdowns of the Keteyian interview which I found to be totally outrageous on multiple levels. CBS and Keteyian actively spiked their own “scoop” about Paterno not being involved in a cover-up, and the rest of the media basically ignored what should have been the latest in a long series of bombshells which should have changed the entire narrative of this story. At our website I have put together an extensive analysis of all of these bombshells which the media never allowed to go off.
I asked Keteyian on Twitter if he could simply substantiate some of his obviously false claims in the story and he apparently started getting “attacked” by some of my followers. I was shocked when he finally responded, “To you and your small army of foul-mouthed PSU supporters: there is no reasoning with you with facts or otherwise. Over and out.” He never responded to me again, even after I offered him $10,000 to the charity of his choice if he could simply get Frank Fina to say which of the PSU administrators allegedly gave birth to the cover-up idea, which is a question no one will answer because there is no remotely logical response.
I found Keteyian’s retort to me to be amazingly rude and an indication that he had no weapons in his factual arsenal. When you have to resort to “you guys are being mean” in your first and only response, then you know you have lost. I actually think such an act could have gotten him fired under slightly different circumstances, but since our side is wrongly thought to be defending child molestation the media has rationalized that they can do anything they want to us and it is justifiable. The irony of course is that I am quite sure that the average person at the “March 4 Truth” probably knows more about the real facts of the case than Keteyian does.
OS: What is your relationship like with the Paterno family at this point? You have gotten into some public spats with Scott Paterno, specifically.
JZ: Scott is the only person in the family with whom I have ever had a problem. I even spoke to Jay quite extensively after Scott put out his infamous statement condemning my Sandusky interview.
At that time I suspected that Scott was being motivated mostly by ego and politics, rather than the truth of this matter, but I still wasn’t sure. Now I am positive that was indeed the case. The entire Paterno Report and the full embrace of sex crimes expert Jim Clemente (with whom I have had far more contact than Scott) was a blatant, and largely misguided, political maneuver which was motivated by an attempt to be ultra politically correct, rather than, as Joe Paterno said he wanted, a pursuit of the truth.
I have come to strongly believe that Scott Paterno is the person on the Paterno side of this story who deserves the most blame for how this all went down and I am hardly alone in thinking this way. I am just the only person with the guts to say it publicly because obviously most Paterno supporters aren’t going to criticize a member of the Paterno family. But unlike Scott, since my only motivation here is the truth (and contrary to Scott’s epic miscalculation of me, I’m not involved in a commercial endeavor), I am willing to endure backlash to expose what really happened here.
People probably wrongly think that I am saying this because Scott sabotaged my Today Show interview on behalf of the media, but what they don’t understand is that the reason Scott did what was because he knew I was the only person willing and able to call him out on his role in screwing this whole thing up. At his essence, Scott is a “political” person (unfortunately, not a very good one) and not a “truth” person.
His biggest miscalculation (among many) was that he failed to understand that, fair or not, Joe Paterno’s fate here was, and always will be, tied to Jerry Sandusky’s. When he accepted/promoted the notion that Sandusky was a “monster” (and killed my attempt to prove that Mike McQueary did not witness an assault) that “checkmated” his “client” in the public’s eyes because then Joe “had to know” and massive damage was then allowed to occur under his watch. The greatest shame of their ill-fated strategy is that this view of Sandusky is not even consistent with the known facts.
I actually have great sympathy for Scott Paterno. He was put in a very difficult situation, not of his own making, which he was completely unprepared to handle. I just wish he would have admitted that to himself and moved aside instead of digging his hole deeper and deeper in an effort to make up for the mistakes of November 2011.
OS: If Graham Spanier, Tim Curley, and Gary Schultz are found innocent — which you suspect they will be — what will that do for this storyline? Do people outside of Pennsylvania still care?
JZ: Given how Penn State, the Sandusky prosecutors, and CBS have all gone out of their way to pollute the jury pool, I am not nearly as confident about their acquittal as I once was. I think that, assuming there is ever actually a trial, that a hung jury is a real possibility.
Even if they they are acquitted, which, based on what we currently know as well as basic logic, they absolutely should be, I share your apparent skepticism that it would significantly change the narrative. It is just too late. The national media has moved on and people have already made up their minds. Why shouldn’t they have? Penn State has already gone out of their way to make it known that effectively pled “guilty” on their behalf in every way possible.
Should that happen, the media narrative will be that the prosecution just couldn’t prove the case in a situation where convictions were always going to be tough to obtain. It would be so typical of this utterly bizarre story if our side finally conceded ultimate defeat after having achieved our most substantial victory.
OS: What have you learned from this entire debacle? About the media, the legal system, anything.
JZ: Wow, you don’t have enough space for that full answer. I would say that I didn’t learn anything totally new (except, of course, about the issue of child molestation and specific facts of this case) but rather had a lot of my suspicions about the modern nature of life in America confirmed.
I learned for sure that:
That the news media is dumber, less ethical, more ratings-driven, less substantive, and more incompetent than even I realized.
That the public is driven almost totally by emotion rather than logic and that most people, once they make up their mind, rarely change it, even after they get new facts.
That people, especially young people, are very fearful of being seen as politically incorrect and that fighting to correct an injustice isn’t worth the risk to most people.
That abject cowardice is rampant in our society, especially among men and in academia.
That the truth really doesn’t have much value to most people.
That most people at the heart of a saga are actually rather ignorant of the facts of that story which surrounds their lives.
That prosecutors and police are not always totally honest.
That most people have a horrible memory for things which may have happened ten years ago.
That, in a crisis, whoever tells the first story that the media wants to believe is true is going to set the narrative, which is everything.
That most people have a far more dramatic reaction to the words “child rape” than they do “child murder.”
That is it absolutely impossible to explain what really happened in this story in the short amount of time anyone will give you to do so.
That if you are not a huge celebrity it is suicidal to go up against the entire media industrial complex.
OS: Do you have any regrets so far in relation to your involvement in the Penn State situation?
JZ: Again, there is not enough time/space to answer that question completely, though I deal with this issue in the “Betrayal of Joe Paterno” book I released for free online.
Yes, I have huge regrets about all of this. I should have probably never gotten involved at all. My career and life have been greatly damaged by all of this. If I was still single maybe that would have been an ok price to pay for trying to right such a massive injustice, but I have a wife and a young child who will probably only ever know her father as a total loser, largely because of the results of this situation. Ironically, I actually think that I have done the best work of my career on this case and that, eventually, I will be fully vindicated (not that it will do me any good).
I made a lot of miscalculations. Even I was surprised by the incredible strength of the wall the media built around their false narrative here. All the normal media rules were broken and I actually think that is, in part, because they know they are wrong and are very insecure about it.
I also thought that Penn Staters would be willing to fight back a lot harder, but I have since learned that apparently a huge portion of Penn State males participated a secret communal castration ceremony on November 10th, 2011 and to this date no one has actually reported on it. You guys should really investigate that.
This will blow a lot of people’s minds, but from a factual perspective my biggest regret was not fighting harder on the Today Show and CNN to make it clear that Jerry Sandusky was likely not the type of criminal that he is presumed to be. At that time I was not nearly as convinced that Sandusky likely never had “sex” with any of those men (though I still do think he probably committed crimes). I was also very hesitant to get my efforts destroyed in the media over an issue which I saw as tangential to my primary objective which was justice for Joe Paterno. As it turned out, I got destroyed any way, so I might as well have said what my gut was already telling me was the truth. The only good thing about that entire situation was that it freed me up to tell the real truth of what happened here because now I have nothing left to lose or fear.
I do wish to say that I do NOT regret my “tactics” which have been so criticized by so many, including at this website. I have never done anything remotely unethical and, believe it or not, have shown remarkable restraint in almost every situation I was in. Trust me, had I been fully trusting my instincts I would have gone a lot farther in certain situations and I got unfairly attacked in some circumstances where I was going out of my way, against my own self interest, to do the right thing.
One of the many things that people don’t seem to get about me is that I am willing to sacrifice myself for a cause that I believe in. It was my intent here to blow open some holes in the enemy lines for others to run through. I did that damn well, its just that very few people had the guts to take advantage of this and these sacrifices were largely wasted.
OS: We’re almost two years in now, and although we’ve seen the public perception of Joe Paterno softening somewhat (Bob Costas’ reversal and Frank Fina’s comments come to mind), there hasn’t been any massive national opinion swing. Try as we might, it’s impossible to go back to some consequential decisions and un-ring the bell, so to speak. How do you think this will all turn out in the end?
JZ: As I have written about extensively at FramingPaterno.com, its really hard to believe that the the statements from Costas and Fina didn’t make more of an impact. That may be the most obvious proof that this situation is never going to fully turn around and this injustice is highly unlikely to be significantly reversed.
When we started this, our scientific poll proved that almost half the nation thought that Joe Paterno might have been accused of child molestation, so this was an incredibly steep mountain to climb, especially with almost no resources. Obviously we haven’t gotten to the top of that hill and probably never will.
Ironically, at this point the only way it ever could happen is if some of Sandusky’s victims start to recant which, especially now that they have ben paid by Penn State, is never going to happen, even if they have something about which to come clean. For the record, I am still very convinced that Victim 2 is never going to contradict his last version of events in which he strongly combated Mike McQueary’s version of what happened.
My current prediction is that the former administrators will not ever be convicted on any of the major charges, that the NCAA will reduce the sanctions in some way*, but that Joe Paterno will not be honored by Penn State in any significant manner for quite a while. My fear with regard to Paterno is that by the time that is close to happening many of his strongest supporters may no longer be around and the longer this process takes the less political power his allies may have.
(*This interview was conducted before the NCAA reduced the sanctions last week. I’m sure he’d want me to tell you that.)
Sadly, the bottom line is that this thing will never be fixed unless the grandchildren of people on our side somehow hold on to the truth long enough to rectify many years from now.
OS: Describe Mike McQueary in the form of a haiku.
JZ: Did he see that then?
I think he changed his mind, twice
A hero, he’s not
OS: I’m going to jam three questions into one but it’s my interview so I don’t care. Last time we spoke, you said if you were a dinosaur you’d be a pterodactyl. Are you sticking to that answer? Also, what’s your handicap these days? What are the chances Sarah Palin runs for President in 2016?
JZ: Yeah, I’ll still stick with Pterodactyl. I’m about a 1 to a 3 handicapper these days, depending on my putting. Sarah Palin will not run for president unless it is as a third-party candidate. She would get exposed as irrelevant in a Republican primary, but may do the third-party tease as a way of getting attention.
*Bonus question: After I conducted the initial interview, USA Today columnist Christine Brennan wrote this horrendous column knocking the NCAA for reducing some of Penn State’s sanctions. Soon after, Ziegler wrote his own blog post and admitted to “sort of briefly” dating Brennan years ago. If you’re familiar, Brennan has been one of the nastiest “reporters” in the media when it comes to Penn State, so this revelation was quite interesting to me. Naturally, I had to find out what was going through Ziegler’s head.
OS: What was it like to “sort of briefly” date Christine Brennan?
JZ: Funny. We had a weird relationship. It had a romantic component but not much, especially by today’s standards. We were mostly friends and she took a lot of my career advice.
Ironically, if we hated each other back then as we do now the relationship would have probably been far more sexual. Thankfully, now I am married to a woman who is far more attractive than Christine was even 15-16 years ago. My attraction to Christine was based in the notion I thought she was smart. Obviously this story has proven I was wrong about that.