NBC has the big Monday morning show exclusive in the form of the first jailhouse interview with convicted child rapist and former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, but the sitdown was an outside job. The segment is actually part of a much larger project called “The Framing of Joe Paterno,” spearheaded by conservative filmmaker John Ziegler, creator of Blocking the Path to 9/11 (which blames Bill Clinton) and Media Malpractice: How Obama Got Elected. His current crusade is an attempt to exonerate the late Penn State head coach, but along the way he’s developed some strange sympathies for Sandusky, with some Steubenville thoughts thrown in for good measure.
Ziegler’s FramingPaterno.com has all the hallmarks of a conspiracy theory site — tons and tons of rambling text, frequent use of all-caps and giant fonts for emphasis, requests for donations — but Ziegler has a defense prepared. In the post “An Open Letter to the News Media: How to Do a Hit Piece on John Ziegler,” the conspiracy theory charge is met with the explanation, “the term ‘framing’ is meant figuratively, not literally. Hopefully some of you can comprehend the distinction there.”
Ziegler is also quick to point out his own role in Steubenville, the other horrific, football-related rape case of the moment, writing, “I am at least as certain that [head football coach] Reno Saccoccia was not culpable in the crimes of his players as I am in Joe Paterno’s lack of blame for those of his former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. As for insensitivity to rape victims, such a charge is so baseless it doesn’t deserve a response.”
Ziegler, who was memorably profiled when he was a talk-radio host by David Foster Wallace and famously turned on Sarah Palin, says he is focused on debunking the mainstream media coverage of the case, along with the university’s Freeh Report on the scandal, which charged that Paterno “failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade.”
“The primary purpose of this interview was not to attempt to exonerate Jerry Sandusky of the horrible crimes for which he was convicted in a trial where he didn’t even take the stand in his own defense,” Ziegler writes. “My principal objective was to gather new information about this story as it related to the alleged culpability of Joe Paterno and Penn State in these crimes.”
But he did come away with some insights on Sandusky, as detailed in the post “Our REALLY Exclusive Interview With Jerry Sandusky”:
“I didn’t want to like him and, for the most part, largely because of his rather obvious narcissism, I didn’t. …I didn’t come away hating him either. […]
I must admit that as a human being, a part of me did have sympathy for the hell that he is enduring and respect for his ability to not give up against insurmountable odds. […]
As for Sandusky’s overall demeanor and credibility, I must confess that I was impressed. He comes across as incredibly sincere and so remarkably unpolished that the notion that he could have been a super-slick master manipulator (one who somehow couldn’t even manage to properly answer the Bob Costas “are you sexually attracted to young boys?” question) seems almost absurd. […]
For lack of a better way to put it, my BS detector, which is usually incredibly reliable, remained silent for the vast majority of the interview. This means that he is either the greatest liar and manipulator that I have ever run across (which is certainly possible), or there is something else going on here that is contrary to the public perception of his crimes.
Paterno’s family wants no part of it, with his son Scott tweeting, “Why would we oppose Ziegler’s analysis if it credibly exonerated Dad? We oppose it b/c it seeks to do so with a false narrative.” Multiple child welfare groups also asked NBC not to run the interview. Ziegler was not paid for the segment by NBC, he said, but plans to release the full Sandusky sitdown on his website and is attempting to use the publicity to fund a full-length documentary project on the case.