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Report Finds Penn State Shares Responsibility in Sandusky Abuse Case

July 12, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
A report by former FBI director Louis Freeh concludes that leaders at Penn State, including head football coach Joe Paterno, did not do enough to protect the children who were abused by former assistant coach Jerry Sundusky. Judy Woodruff talks to Cate Barron of The Patriot-News and Mark Dent of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
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JEFFREY BROWN: Penn State got the full story today on a football coach’s sexual abuse of boys and the subsequent actions by officials, and it was a damning one. The review of the Jerry Sandusky scandal ran 267 pages and followed an eight-month investigation.

Ray Suarez begins our coverage.

LOUIS FREEH, Former FBI Director: Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State.

RAY SUAREZ: Former FBI Director Louis Freeh minced no words today. He charged there was a conspiracy of silence among top leaders at Penn State about claims that Jerry Sandusky preyed on young boys.

Last month, the former assistant football coach was convicted of sexually abusing 10 youths over 15 years. Freeh said Sandusky’s longtime boss, legendary coach Joe Paterno, was complicit in a cover-up going back to 1998.

LOUIS FREEH: There’s a whole bunch of evidence here. And we’re saying the reasonable conclusion from that evidence is he was an integral part of this active decision to conceal.

RAY SUAREZ: The Freeh report also named three other Penn State officials, former athletic director Tim Curley, former senior vice president Gary Schultz, and former university president Graham Spanier.

LOUIS FREEH: Misters Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley repeatedly concealed facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse from the authorities, the Board of Trustees, the Penn State community, and the public at large. None of them ever spoke to Sandusky about his conduct. In short, nothing was done, and Sandusky was allowed to continue with impunity.

RAY SUAREZ: The allegations against Sandusky finally exploded into Spanier public view last year, and both Paterno and Spanier were fired. Paterno died in January, before investigators could speak with him.

And in a statement today, his family challenged Freeh’s findings. They said, in part: “Sandusky was a great deceiver. He fooled everyone, law enforcement, his family, coaches, players, neighbors, university officials. If Joe Paterno had understood what Sandusky was, a fear of bad publicity would not have factored into his actions.”

But Freeh said, in fact, that is exactly what motivated the Hall of Fame coach, and he said no one would challenge Paterno, including janitors who witnessed the rape of one boy.

LOUIS FREEH: They were afraid to take on the football program. They said the university would circle around it. It was like going against the president of the United States. If that’s the culture on the bottom, God help the culture at the top.

RAY SUAREZ: Freeh also laid blame on Penn State’s Board of Trustees, the group that brought him in to do the report.

LOUIS FREEH: They didn’t create an atmosphere where the president and the senior officers felt they were accountable to the board.

RAY SUAREZ: Board members responded this afternoon, promising changes to a number of university policies.

KAREN PEETZ, Chair, Penn State University Board of Trustees: The board in cooperation with the administration will take every action to ensure that an event like this never happens again in our university community.

RAY SUAREZ: But attorney Jeffrey Fritz, who represents one of Sandusky’s victims, said it’s too little, too late.

JEFFREY FRITZ, Attorney for Jerry Sandusky Victim: Judge Freeh and his group in a relatively short time period discovered what the Penn State administrators knew over a very long time period. And that is the systemic failures which led to this abuse happening and continuing to happen, which victimized children and put them to risk.

RAY SUAREZ: For his part, Freeh said the university has to make sure it creates a culture that, in his words, protects children and not adults who abuse them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We look more closely now at the report and the reaction to these findings.

Cate Barron is the editor of The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Her paper was the first to report on the Sandusky crimes and won the Pulitzer Prize for its coverage. And Mark Dent of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is covering the fallout in State College, Pennsylvania, where Penn State’s campus is located.

And we thank you both for being with us.

Mark Dent, to you first.

How certain are the authors of this report that the leaders of the university knew what Sandusky was up to as long ago as 1998?

MARK DENT, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Well, that was the first thing that they really discussed in the report was that these four men, Paterno, Curley, Schultz, and Spanier, had knowledge of it as far back as ’98. They have e-mails showing knowledge of it. There’s an e-mail reference where Curley mentions that he wants — Joe Paterno is anxious to hear about more news regarding this incident.

So there’s basically no doubt. There’s documentation that these four men had knowledge of that event, even though three of them, Paterno, Curley, and Schultz, denied knowing about the 1998 incident to the grand jury when they talked to the grand jury last year.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, that was going to be my question, because that would mean that then they didn’t tell the truth to the grand jury.

MARK DENT: Yes. Absolutely. And obviously Curley and Schultz are facing charges of perjury already and a failure to report. Joe Paterno wasn’t charged. And last November, the attorney general actually said that Paterno had done everything that they’d expected of him, he wasn’t facing any charges, they were not looking after him or anything like that.

Clearly, these new findings which were not available or at least not found by the attorney general last November and during its entire investigation might cause them to think differently, if Paterno were still alive.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark Dent, staying with you, the report also goes to great lengths to detail the efforts that the leaders of the school went to, to cover up or to not disclose or pursue what happened.

Give us an idea of some of that.

MARK DENT: Well, for instance, they didn’t go to the authorities. We all know that. They didn’t do that in 1998 or in 2001.

It should be their policy to disclose this first of all to the authorities, and then they should also make mention of it to the Board of Trustees, whereas none of this was mentioned outside of the group of four, except for the 2001 incident was discussed with Wendell Courtney, the Penn State University counsel at the time.

So you had a major incident that was known only by five people in 2001. And they went so far afterwards as to, of course, give Sandusky, once he had retired in 1999 — they knew about it in ’98 — when he retired in ’99, they gave him access to the facilities. They even signed an agreement saying that, for five years, Penn State would kind of help out and coordinate stuff with the Second Mile and allow it to use its stuff, and they would talk about continuing that relationship, as they did.

And Curley and Paterno both wrote recommendation letters for Jerry Sandusky after all this. In 1999, Joe Paterno wrote a letter recommending Jerry Sandusky to get into a local Pennsylvania Hall of Fame. And as recently as 2010, Curley wrote a recommendation letter describing the good acts of Sandusky.

So these guys covered it up and then went on to still gloat about Sandusky’s achievements.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Cate Barron, can you flesh out a little more for us the role that Joe Paterno played? Because that has — his role has been so much the focus of this, but this report, when you read it, you see time and again he specifically took actions to see that this didn’t go further, that it wasn’t made public.

CATE BARRON, Editor, The Patriot-News: Yes, Judy, it seems like there was a point where Schultz and Curley were going to proceed with blowing the whistle on Sandusky.

And it was after a talk with Joe — there were no notes directly from Joe — but the e-mails said that this was changed, to go back into that culture of silence up at Penn State.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And there wasn’t just one instance of Paterno interfering or not moving. There were several, weren’t there?

CATE BARRON: There were several.

Besides that, though, there’s a whole culture of secrecy and silence around Penn State athletics for many, many years during the Paterno regime. And it was very hard to break in. Our sports reporters had trouble and let alone our news reporters. It got the point where we eventually had to sue the university to getting access to Paterno’s salary, even though part of that salary was involved in tax money.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So as you look at this report, Cate Barron, how does it square with efforts you know that your paper was making once you did get an inkling of what was going on with regard to the grand jury? How does it square with what you saw from the outside?

CATE BARRON: We felt as if this was truly a vindication of what we had been reporting, although I will say our big surprise today was just how involved Paterno was in 1998. We didn’t know that.

We also didn’t know how involved president Spanier was. In fact, president Spanier again kept begging that he didn’t know anything about it. We asked him directly, and we had a reporter talk to him right before the indictment came down. He denied everything.

And he was doing this with the board as well, not filling the board in on just how serious the situation was, all the while Penn State officials were making a 90-mile drive to Harrisburg to testify before the seated grand jury.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark Dent, again, you are there in State College, the city where the university is located. What’s the reaction on campus today?

MARK DENT: Well, you know, it’s interesting.

Throughout the entire summer, the campus is usually pretty deserted, just because it’s summer session, but the Arts Fest is going on today, which is the biggest festival of the entire summer. So the town is actually full of alumni, full of students. So there’s been quite a reaction.

Early on, I was in the student — I was around Old Main and then the student union. The Old Main is an old building on campus — and then the student union.

And some of the reactions you could see were of clear sadness and disappointment, I think mainly regarding Joe Paterno. A lot of people kind of held out hope. Even though there had been those leaks of this report showing that Paterno was significantly more involved in 2001, I think they were still kind of holding out hope that his legacy might not be changed.

But once we learned all about 1998 and a lot of the other findings in this, it had changed, and there was a report of a woman who was crying in the student union. I think that was a bit extreme. But you could see a lot of disappointment.

I went over to the Joe Paterno statue, which is outside of the football stadium, this afternoon and I saw a woman who was in town visiting. She said she had hardly ever visited the statue before, but she came around today because she felt like she needed to. And I talked to her about it. And she said she just wanted to look at that statue in the eye and just kind of ask, how could you do that to these kids and how could you do that to us, referring to the Penn State community.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Cate Barron, just quickly, what about the reaction around the state? Go ahead.

CATE BARRON: I agree with that.

In fact, I would like to add that I think that all Penn State nation — and it’s mighty and it’s all through Pennsylvania, a huge, huge alumni base — was hoping that this was going to provide some closure. And I think it’s really far from it now, not to mention the fact that we still have a number of investigations pending.

People are holding their breath as to what the NCAA may do. And on top of that, the civil suits are starting to show up, and that could be a very long time before we hear the end of this.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we thank you both, Cate Barron with the Harrisburg Patriot-News, and Mark Dent, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

CATE BARRON: Thank you.

MARK DENT: Thanks, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we do have the full 267-page report posted on our website.