Wednesday, July 30

Patriot News, Part 8 of 9: Chapter 2, Sara Ganim

"This is just like any other crime story that I report."  -- Sara Ganim, November 21, 2011

By
Ray Blehar

Sara Ganim is a self-proclaimed crime and courts reporter who once stated that she treated the Sandusky case “just like every other crime story that I report.”    As the evidence will show, Ganim’s knowledge of criminal and judicial proceedings was lacking, which led to her making significant mistakes in her reporting.

The journalism awards bestowed upon her were not based on the thoroughness or accuracy of her reporting.   Simply put, Ganim won the Pulitzer Prize and other awards because the Sandusky scandal happened in her “backyard,” she benefited from leaked information that continually gave her “scoops,” and that the various awards committees didn’t verify the information in her stories.   

Ganim, however, did not act alone.   As she mentioned in the Foster-Foreman seminar she gave at Penn State, her Pulitzer prize winning story that broke the news of the grand jury investigation was “very well lawyered.”

It had to be.  

Otherwise, the P-N would have exposed that it was benefiting from a leaked 1998 University Park police report.   Even with the lawyers reviewing her work, the story contained a highly unusual statement that, at a minimum revealed a lack of knowledge of investigative procedures, and at its worst revealed evidence of a possible cover-up.

On the whole, the P-N’s and Ganim’s reporting on the Sandusky scandal was worse than the reporting by the British tabloid, The Sun, in its coverage of the Hillsborough soccer tragedy.    The Sun took the words of law enforcement at face value and regurgitated the police’s story that it was drunken Liverpool soccer fans that caused the disaster.   Twenty four years later, an independent panel would be convened and determine that the police had lied to reporters and the public about what had happened.  The tragedy was caused by insufficient policing and crowd control.
    
Similarly, the P-N's reporting followed a similar track, taking the words of the Pennsylvania Attorney General at face value, even though there were obvious flaws in the November 5th, 2011 grand jury report.   The presentment, with the misleading sub-title, “Findings of Facts” was riddled with falsehoods, half-truths, and omissions.  Some of the most important evidence in the case was omitted in order to ensure that the government agencies  and TSM were not held accountable.  Instead, the OAG laid the blame on PSU and deceased DA Ray Gricar.  

Ganim and the P-N simply persevered on those two themes and quashed any information that revealed cover-ups of Sandusky’s abuse at TSM and the failures of Pennsylvania government’s agencies.   As a result, Ganim never informed the public about the real means in which Sandusky was able to access and abuse his victims and how children remained at risk when the state investigators intervened in child abuse cases.  

The greatest tragedy resulting from Ganim's false narrative was that the necessary reforms were never made to Pennsylvania's child protection system, leaving thousands of children in harm's way.


Ganim's Credibility 

To judge the credibility of Sara Ganim, it’s best to look at her own words about her “investigative and crime reporting” on the scandal.

 “Until the night Paterno was fired, it never even crossed my mind that this could be something that would lead to what it led to, I never thought it would lead to the firing of Joe Paterno, ever,” she said. I just followed the facts, piece by piece, as they came to us.”

I’m a crime reporterI’m not a football reporter.  This is what I do.  This is just like every other crime story that I report.”

“I have a police scanner on my nightstand,” she writes on her personal site. “I fall to sleep and wake up to the morning news. I work 60-hour weeks digging and investigating, chatting up sources, and peeling back layers until I find amazing stories.”

Which one was it? 

Did she spend 60-hour weeks digging and investigating?  Did she treat this as any other crime story? Or did she follow the facts (leaks) as they were provided to her? 

Her reporting on the scandal proves it was the latter. 

If she was a crime reporter, and not a football reporter, why would she surf football message boards when she first heard about Sandusky’s abuse in 2009?  If she did any research on Sandusky at all, she had to have known he retired from PSU a decade earlier to work on this passion – TSM – which served at-risk youth.  Her investigation should have started there -- not on football message boards.

If she truly worked 60 hours a week digging and investigating, how did she not dig up the Annual Reports and IRS records of TSM, which were available to the public to find leads? Undoubtedly, she would have been able to knock on hundreds of doors just by following up on the names listed in those reports.  But instead, she was surfing anonymous football message boards?

In short, Ganim and the P-N  simply avoided any serious investigation or reporting about the charity – much in the same manner as the OAG did during the Sandusky investigation.

I don't think the P-N's lack of interest in TSM was merely a coincidence.  

As Ganim said, they "followed the facts, piece by piece, as they came to us."


Breaking the Story of the Sandusky Grand Jury Investigation

In a series of interviews after she won the Pulitzer prize, Ganim told a variety of stories about how she broke the news of the Sandusky grand jury.  The stories were a mix of truth and fantasy (underlined type indicates falsehoods and footnotes provide explanations). 

STORY #1 (Poynter):  While working as a courts and crime reporter at the Centre Daily Times in State College, Pa., Ganim got a tip that former Penn State Assistant Football Coach Jerry Sandusky had been accused of molesting a local child.

I wrote [Sandusky's] name down on a sticky note and stuck it on my computer,” said Ganim, who spoke at Poynter recently as part of a “Covering Sexual Abuse” seminar sponsored by the McCormick Foundation.

Ganim didn’t know much about Sandusky at the time and couldn’t find any evidence to support the allegation. Six weeks later, the tipster called her back to say he was wrong.

Ganim later attended a fundraiser for Sandusky’s charity for at-risk and underprivileged youth, and realized he wasn’t there. When she started asking why, some people said he had health problems. Others said he had family problems. The two different responses raised red flags.

While reporting on Sandusky at the Centre Daily Times, Ganim was “trying to prove that I could have the whole beat.” She eventually tracked down the boy who had accused Sandusky of molestation[1] after talking with adults in the community where he lived.  It wasn’t until she got a job months later at the Patriot-News in January 2011 that she was really able to pursue the story Her bosses there initially gave her two weeks (and more time later) to focus solely on it.

“I had those two weeks to do nothing else. I was able to do a whole slew of interviews … and I was able to get some other supporting evidence,” Ganim said.

STORY #2 (Glamour): "Anything else going on?" Sara Ganim asked her source late one night in 2009. As the crime reporter for a small newspaper in State College, Pennsylvania, it was a question she always ended with. And this evening, to Ganim's surprise, the source replied, "Well, actually, a boy just came forward to the police and alleged sex crimes against Jerry Sandusky."

Jerry Sandusky. Like everyone in town, Ganim knew his name: He was the retired assistant coach of Penn State University's championship-winning football team. Ganim wrote Sandusky on a sticky note and, though she didn't know it at the time, had her first lead in breaking one of last year's most explosive news stories—the Penn State sexual-abuse scandal.

Let's stop right here to say she was only 22 at the time.

Ganim, a Penn State grad and a football fan herself, knew her way around the university's online message boards. There she quickly found gossip about Sandusky getting too friendly with young boys.[2] So she started asking around. "I'd say, 'Hey, have you heard anything strange about Jerry Sandusky?'" And though people knew about the rumors, Ganim says, "almost no one believed they were true."

For the next two years, Ganim tried to get real facts[3]—"I just started knocking on doors," she says—and pursued the story aggressively after joining the staff of Harrisburg's The Patriot-News in January 2011. But in a community where football is a religion and the game brings Penn State $73 million a year (there was even an ice-cream flavor called Sandusky Blitz), it didn't take long for her to slam up against the full power of the former coach's legacy.

"Some people closed their doors in my face, and others definitely did not tell me the truth," she says. "But many were relieved—they were done keeping the story bottled up inside." What she uncovered[4] was staggering:  She identified two[5] alleged victims and learned that Sandusky was under investigation by a grand jury for sexual abuse. (In Pennsylvania such proceedings are held in secret.) Ganim kept digging and, by this time last year, had enough evidence to write the first story exposing the grand jury hearing, as well as accusations that the former coach had molested at least one boy in the university's locker room.

STORY #3 (OnwardState):  “She also detailed how she first heard about the Sandusky investigation when a student asked her to tell the story. Ganim stressed that asking sources if they have any more noteworthy information can always help. During a late night conversation with a source about news unrelated to Jerry Sandusky, he mentioned that Sandusky “has been accused of molesting boys during sleepovers at his house.”  Ganim had to Google his name to figure out who he was, but she realized that gravity of the accusation once she did.
Her source called her a week later to explain that the accusations were false, most likely trying to cover himself after releasing information that he shouldn’t have. It wasn’t until Ganim attended a Second Mile fundraiser five or six months later that she realized that the investigation was still taking place. Sandusky wasn’t present and when Ganim asked two different Second Mile board members why that was, she received two different answers. “The charity knew he was under investigation but didn’t tell people what to say if people asked,” she explained.

Story #4 (The Observer/Notre Dame)  ”Ganim’s research into the scandal dates back to 2009[6], when she first received a tip while working at State College, Penn.’s Centre Daily Times. A source told her that a child had accused Sandusky of molesting him.

She said she approached the story just as she would “any other crime story.”

“I looked into [Sandusky,] and I found out who he was, and I thought, ‘wow if this guy really molested a child, that’s a big deal,’” she said.

But without hard facts to go on, Ganim said the story could not move forward[7]. She said victims had spoken up and made allegations, but those allegations did not lead to charges.

Eventually, Ganim moved to the Patriot-News, where she was given time to do “nothing but knock on doors.”[8]

When she had information from five independent sources who had testified before the Grand Jury, the Patriot-News ran the story.

We learned after the story ran that it led to more victims coming forward[9], and Jerry Sandusky admitted that all of the facts that we had alleged — yes, they were alleged,” she said. “He just said he didn’t do it.”

Ganim’s stories about working on the Sandusky case prior to her joining the P-N appear to be just that – stories.   While Ganim may have been tipped about Sandusky in 2009, there is no evidence to support that she made progress on the story until after she moved to her job in Harrisburg.

Based on the evidence, all of the important information in the March 31, 2011 grand jury column was gathered after January 2011.  At the time the March story went to press, the P-N  did not admit that it had the 1998 police report in its possession and how the police report was critical for finding Victim 6. 

Based on those four stories and the evidence from judicial proceedings, this is the most likely scenario of how the P-N  “broke” the story on the Sandusky grand jury.  Note that they were working on the story prior to Ganim’s arrival.

1.     Ganim was told by a local State College news reporter that Sandusky was under investigation for child abuse.

2.     At the Thursday night kickoff banquet at the 2009 Second Mile Golf Tournament, Sandusky was absent and the same reporter suggested to her “we need to get working on this story.”

3.     In September 2010, Jan Murphy, of the P-N, emailed then PSU President Graham Spanier to ask if he was aware of an investigation of Sandusky.  Spanier responded negatively.

4.     Ganim took a job with the P-N in January 2011.

5.     Ganim obtained (or was given) the 1998 police report and began to work on the story.

6.     In January 2011, Ganim called Victim 6, his mother, and the mother and wife of BK.   Ganim was told that BK was in Afghanistan and not available to speak with her.   Victim 6 and his mother confirmed information about the 1998 investigation.

7.     Ganim gave contact information of an investigator to the mother of Victim 6.[10] 

8.     On or about February 4, 2011, an unspecified female reporter (likely Ganim) had “camped” outside former police chief Tom Harmon’s house and was inquiring about the 1998 investigation.

9.      Ganim tracked down Aaron Fisher (Victim 1) in February 2011.

10.   Ganim emailed Penn State’s Athletic Director Tim Curley and PSU President Graham Spanier on March 28, 2011, and asked them about their knowledge of the grand jury investigation.

11. The P-N ran the grand jury story on March 31, 2011, noting that Paterno, Curley, and Schultz had testified and the case involved a 15 year old Clinton County youth (Fisher) and Victim 6.

12.  By the time the March 31st story ran, the police knew the identities of Victims 5, 6, and 7.  The mother and sister of Victim 6 identified those individuals to the police.  

Ganim’s and Newhouse’s stories about the breaking of the Sandusky case contained  falsehoods about her work on the case while she was at the Centre Daily Times and also avoided admitting that the 1998 police report was instrumental in the paper breaking the story.


Scandal Reporting Defies Journalistic Ethics

As chapters 2 through 9 revealed, Ganim's reporting on the case often obfuscated the facts, was erroneous, and contained known falsehoods.  Rather than regurgitate a long list of all her violations of journalistic ethics, the following three incidents likely make the case for revoking her Pulitzer prize.

1.  In her March 22, 2012 column, she published a known falsehood that DPW's Jerry Lauro was not aware of either evaluation of Victim 6.  Ganim had possession of the 1998 police report at the time she interviewed Lauro, who told her he was unaware of either evaluation.  The police report clearly revealed that Lauro had asked Centre County CYS to arrange the second evaluation of Victim 6.  In addition, Dr. Chambers' psychology report was attached to the police report -- and it stated that Chambers had made an oral report of the incident to DPW.  In other words, it was extremely likely that Lauro had knowledge of both evaluations and it was indisputable that he was aware of the second evaluation.

To make matters worse, Ganim published a misleading headline that intimated that Penn State University had hid the reports from Lauro. 


Patriot-News Special Report: 1998 Jerry Sandusky investigator would have pursued dropped case if he had seen hidden Penn State police report


As a result of Ganim's reporting, the public was misled into believing that DPW didn't see these reports and was excused for its failures to indicate Sandusky for child abuse in 1998.  

2.  In her Pulitzer prize winning, November 11, 2012 column about missed opportunities to bring Sandusky to justice, Ganim fabricated a story about an imaginary chain of reporting that supposedly occurred among Penn State officials and Dr. Jack Raykovitz of The Second Mile.  The chain started of with the publication of a known falsehood, that Mike McQueary had reported an "anal rape" to Joe Paterno and ended with her watering down the information that was provided to Dr. Raykovitz.   

The fact of the matter was that Mike McQueary made direct reports to three people at PSU (and two others outside PSU) and that there was no chain of reporting where the incident was "watered down" at each stage.  Ganim had also omitted that John McQueary was the first person to receive a report from Mike and that the PSU General Counsel was involved in the deliberations about the incident.

The Patriot News editorial board then cited this fabricated chain of reporting in an op-ed calling for reforms to Pennsylvania's child abuse reporting laws.

3.  Of all of the things that were shoddily reported by Ganim and the Patriot News during the Sandusky scandal, its reporting about Pennsylvania's child abuse reporting statute was highly inaccurate.  None of its coverage addressed the plain language of the law, which revealed that PSU officials had no reporting responsibility under the 2001 statute.  Nor did it mention that officials at The Second Mile were legally responsible for reporting Sandusky's misconduct when they received the report from Tim Curley.  

As a result of this reporting, the public was not informed about where the real breakdown in the reporting of the 2001 incident occurred.  In addition, the reputations of four men and an entire University community was unnecessarily dragged through the mud.

The bottom line was that Ganim  -- the self-proclaimed "crime and courts" reporter -- failed miserably when it came to actually reporting on her specialty.  

The Pulitzer prize citation lauded Ganim and the Patriot News for "adeptly covering" the scandal. 

The hollowness of that praise will be truly exposed in the final chapter of this report.


Next:  Chapter 1, Leaks 




[1] According to Ganim’s story on October 23, 2012 and the book, Silent No More, she tracked down Victim 1 in February 2011, after joining the P-N.
[2] There were no message board rumors in 2009.  They didn’t start until after Sandusky announced his “retirement” from TSM in the fall of 2010
[3] “Real facts” were no further away than a google search on “The Second Mile” and Sandusky’s book, Touched.”  Available evidence revealed that she first used Sandusky’s book for a story in March 2011.
[4] She did not uncover the information from knocking on doors. The information came from the 1998 police report, which was leaked to the P-N in early 2011. 
[5] Actually, it was three victims, but the P-N and OAG typically avoid mentioning the 3rd victim, BK.
[6] Aside from Ganim’s admission of googling Sandusky’s name, there is little evidence that any serious research was conducted.
[7] There were plenty of facts to move the story forward, particularly public records related to The Second Mile.
[8] She obtained the 1998 police report in January 2011 and used it to find Victim 6 and his mother. She telephoned them both, as well as the wife and mother of BK. 
[9] Based on court documents, only one victim came forward in the timeframe from 31 March 2011 until November 9, 2011.
[10] Commonwealth v. Sandusky, stipulation, 6-18-2012


7 comments:

  1. Ray good stuff and very comprehensive. I would love to know how truly 'independent' Ganim's 5 sources were for her March 2011 column. I suspect all had a vested interest in the outcome of the story.

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  2. Ganim got played like a violin. I just can't be too tough on a very naive woman in her early twenties. The Pulitzer committee made themselves look like fools. She now works for CNN, a once respected news organization that has taken a nose dive into irrelevancy. The Bieber syndrome.

    I am much more critical of Kathlene Kane. She promised a "no stone unturned" investigation, yet there remains untouched the boulder field of the Second Mile and the talus pile of prosecution and judicial misconduct. She was elected to dig out the truth....all of the truth. But like Casey of Mudville, she struck out.

    Of some interest, attorney Jeff Herman has dropped the sexual abuse lawsuit that his former client Micheal Egan filed against "X-Men" director Bryan Singer. Mr. Herman determined that Mr. Egan had fabricated the story. And pedophile Micheal Jackson will have a school named for him in LA.

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    1. Thanks for your comments, Gregory. I agree about the boulder fields, however, I think Kane has delegated at least one, if not both to the Feds.

      Think about it....wouldn't it be wise to put the Feds onto a PA government corruption and judicial/prosecutorial misconduct case?

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  3. Ray, when Fina state in court that he would like to see Ganim arrested, on what legal grounds?
    I am trying to read all I can, but may be missing the legal reason Fina could say something like that. Seems so many journalists get away with unethical type behavior without reprisal. Thank you. Also Thank you for your work.

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    1. Bob,
      I can't read Fina's mind, however, as my newest blog shows, the P-N was publishing information obtained from the secret grand jury. I don't know that it is illegal for them to do that and Fina's comments likely should have been directed at the leaker, not the recipient (Ganim).

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  4. According to the Attorney General's website, grand jury witnesses are free to tell anyone about their testimony but grand jurors, prosecutors and court employees are sworn to secrecy. It seems that it would have been illegal for grand jurors, prosecutors or court employees to leak but not for a reporter to publish the leaked info.

    A possible exception would be if a reporter paid or coerced one of the above to get the info.

    Given the PA Attorney General's highly selective prosecution, I doubt she would charge someone on her staff for leaking info from a grand jury.

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