Documentarian and occasional right-wing rabble rouser John Ziegler has been at the center of the movement to defend Joe Paterno for more than a year now. Today, in a free ten-part “book” he’s published on his website FramingPaterno.com, Ziegler unearths an interview an investigator conducted with the ex-Penn State coach on October 24th, 2011, several weeks before he was fired. Ziegler did not indicate how he obtained the transcript. It appears Paterno is being questioned by Anthony Sassano, an investigator with the state Attorney General’s office who’d been working on the Sandusky case for several years. Here is one substantial excerpt from the interview.
INTERVIEW: JOSEPH V. PATERNO
The date is 10/24/11; time 12:17 p.m., interview of coach Joseph Vincent Paterno, 830 North McKee Street, State College, PA. Scott Paterno is here representing his father. Randy Feathers is also present.
SASSANO: Coach are you aware that this statement is being taped and do you give me permission to tape this statement?
J. PATERNO: Yes.
SASSANO: Did Mike McQueary, some years ago, come to you, report to you an incident that he observed in the shower between Jerry Sandusky and another individual most likely a young boy.
J. PATERNO: Yes he did.
SASSANO: Okay, and can you tell me what Mike McQueary told you please.
J. PATERNO: Mike McQueary came and said he was in the shower and that Jerry Sandusky was in the shower with another person, a younger, how young I don’t know and Mike never mentioned it, that there was some inappropriate sexual activity going on. We didn’t get in to what the inappropriate action was, but it was inappropriate. And that’s how I knew about it.
SASSANO: So he did not elaborate to you what this sexual activity was, only that he witnessed some sexual activity between Sandusky and a young boy?
J. PATERNO: Well he, well he, to be frank with you it was a long time ago, but I think as I recall he said something about touching.
J. PATERNO: Touching.. whatever you want to call them, privates, whatever it is.
SASSANO: Okay, could he have said there was something more? An actual sex act?
J. PATERNO: He never said that.
SASSANO: Okay. Subsequent to that conversation with Mike, you took some appropriate action, correct?
J. PATERNO: Yea, I did because I felt, again, at that time Jerry Sandusky was not working for me.
J. PATERNO: Jerry had retired from the coaching staff two or three years earlier. So I didn’t feel it was my responsibility to make any kind of a decision as to what to do with him, so I called our athletic director, I told him that Mike McQueary had something that he probably ought to share with him.
Much of this, along with the rest of the interview, sounds similar to the testimony Paterno gave during the January, 2011 grand jury investigation that led to Jerry Sandusky’s eventual conviction. But it also undercuts a point Ziegler and other defenders have made before, which is that Paterno didn’t recollect the McQueary episode, and that his grand jury testimony was just “words which McQueary fed to him just prior to his testimony.”
In an email, Ziegler responds to this point: “I have not “maintained” that he was not told it was “sexual,” I have suggested it was very possible he had his reccollection misrefreshed by McQueary. Nothing here changes that.”
Update [2:40 p.m.]
The Patriot-News adds a little context to the story, reporting that the interview in question was a “careful, going-over of facts that the coach had already shared with grand jurors nine months earlier, possibly to make sure there weren’t going to be any surprises when the explosive charges against Sandusky, [Tim] Curley and former Penn State vice president Gary Schultz were announced less than two weeks later.”
The same piece also helps address a critique some of the commenters below have issued. Like Ziegler, several Paterno defenders have posited that the most important aspect of the interview centers around what the former Penn State coach said he told school Athletic Director Tim Curley, following his fateful conversation with McQueary. One of the Freeh Report’s central points was that after “talking over” the McQueary incident “with Joe,” Curley decided not to report Sandusky to state welfare officials. Ziegler and others are arguing that because Paterno never brought up this conversation, which Curley mentioned in an email a couple weeks after the initial revelation, it undercuts claims of his culpability.
But as the Patriot-News notes, the investigators interviewing Paterno in October, 2011 had no knowledge of this subsequent conversation that Curley mentioned, so never pressed him on it. And
Without that, it’s impossible to know:
* If Paterno forgot about the conversation that Curley claims occurred on Feb. 26, 2001.
* If Paterno was simply carefully responding to Sassano’s question, which was whether Curley reported back to him on the outcome of McQueary’s report.
* Or, if Paterno was in fact continuing a cover-up.
Any of those options is more likely than what Ziegler and co. are suggesting: That Curley somehow invented a conversation he had with Paterno in order to “name-drop” him, and potentially shift responsibility to the coach.