Penn State: Newspaper reported on sex abuse when no one else did
The expanding Penn State sexual abuse scandal, which has included the firing of football Coach Joe Paterno, has drawn a torrent of media attention since Nov. 5 when Jerry Sandusky was accused of sexually abusing eight boys.
But as fingers are pointed about who knew what and when, and why no one spoke up, it's notable that one newspaper did speak up about Sandusky long before other news outlets. And executives there were apparently dismayed when the paper's reports caused barely a ripple.
Reporter Sara Ganim wrote in March in the Harrisburg Patriot-News about the first allegations against the former Penn State assistant coach -- eight months before his arrest: "According to five people with knowledge of the case, a grand jury meeting in Harrisburg has been hearing testimony for at least 18 months" about the sexual abuse allegations "made in 2009 by a 15-year-old from Clinton County."
"It was pretty much ignored," editor David Newhouse said of the March report.
"We were kind of shocked," Newhouse said in an interview Monday with the Los Angeles Times. "AP rewrote it as a brief. But other than a report in the Centre Daily Times" in State College, Penn., "it wasn't even on the front pages of any daily newspapers in Pennsylvania."
Also receiving little notice were articles by the Patriot-News in April with "details of the investigation" and in August saying "our information was the grand jury had found multiple victims."
The paper even stumbled onto a major scoop the day before the charges were announced and Sandusky was arrested. The charges against him were "accidentally posted on the Pennsylvania court website."
"They were going to arraign Sandusky, the athletic director [Tim Curley] and the VP [Gary Schultz], and it was all going to come out on Monday," Newhouse said. "We were all braced.... Then we noticed Friday the charges were published on the state court website." Half an hour later, they were also published on the Patriot-News website.
But "even that story drew so little attention" that it didn't make the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer or the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Newhouse says other outlets may have hesitated to pick up on the story because of the culture surrounding Penn State and its football program.
Reaction to the paper's original March report gave "a little glimpse. ... You can see how there was an atmosphere where they wouldn't want to believe" that this could be true.
"Almost all the feedback was negative," he said. It was along the lines of: "How dare you drag this good man's name through the mud? If this turns out [not] to be true, will you put as big a headline on your front page?"
But things have changed more recently.
"Since the story broke, a lot of local folks say they appreciate the coverage," Newhouse said.
-- Amy Hubbard
Photo: On Nov. 12, Penn State fans leave notes for Joe Paterno outside Beaver Stadium after the Penn State vs. Nebraska football game in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Credit: Mario Tama / Getty Images