Saturday, March 2

Media: Penn Live's David Jones, Others, Duped by Rumors, Dubious Reports

On Sunday, January 4th, 2013, David Jones hinted at structural changes that could be forthcoming in the football program.  The source of his information -- football message boards via Facebook.  Other journalists guilty of using rumors as facts.

Ray Blehar

On the night of January 3rd, I had a discussion with a person who is a substantial donor to Penn State athletics.  The donor told me that they had heard O'Brien was staying but, despite the good news,  they were shutting off their donations to PSU Athletics until Dave Joyner was removed as AD. 

Then the donor wished that someone would make Joyner's life miserable, just like he was doing to the fine people who worked for him on the AD staff.

I was still on the phone with the donor and said, "You're not going to believe this, but a rumor about Joyner leaving is already on the message boards.  Someone just posted a link on Facebook  to a post on BWI and I checked it out.  There is a lot of chatter and a lot of people happy about the prospect of Joyner no longer being AD."

The donor laughed and said, "Good, I hope the rumor comes true."

O'Brien Staying

At 9:55PM, the Patriot News' David Jones had released an article about O'Brien being retained as PSU's coach (see below)

Bill O'Brien tells PennLive he is staying at Penn State

David Jones | By David Jones |
on January 03, 2013 at 9:55 PM, updated January 04, 2013 at 8:45 AM

Penn State's long holiday nightmare is over. Bill O'Brien is staying at Penn State.
In an exclusive conversation, the second-year head coach confirmed that he was contacted by and entertained overtures from multiple NFL clubs through his agent Joe Linta. But he has decided to remain at PSU for at least the 2013 season.

Numerous media were on the story of O'Brien after Jones....

Structural Changes

However, it wasn't until the Sunday morning update that came out that Jones reported about "structural changes" in the Athletic Department.....

In addition to a clear testing of the pro head coaching waters, this was a strategic mission of sorts by O'Brien. By having Linta throw his name open to NFL openings and having the agent field offers, he was able to gain additional leverage that allowed him a chance to accomplish structural and personnel changes in the Penn State athletic department that may be forthcoming. O'Brien declined to be specific about those changes when asked but he did not deny those aims.

Jones' column on Sunday morning lead to more writers picking up the structural change idea....specifically, that there was a strained relationship between Joyner and O'Brien.
  • The Post Gazette mentioned that "Joyner and O'Brien's relationship was called into question." 
  • The Collegian questioned Joyner about the relationship.
  • PennLive's Audrey Snyder also pushed Joyner about the relationship (there was a survey attached about Joyner's performance - the vote was 80% no confidence)
  • Mark Brennan of questioned Joyner about the relationship.  
To Brennan's credit he mentioned that rumors were rampant, but most others didn't mention where they heard of this "relationship" issue.

Most of us have been disgusted by the media's performance in the Sandusky scandal.  It's a fact that the media will jump onto a story with no factual basis and repeat it over and  over again.

Facts Don't Matter When You Have Rumors

However, when it came to tearing down a icon like Paterno, the media used a dubious account to paint Paterno as a liar just a week before the release of the Freeh Report.

Many stories  ran on July 6th, trumpeting the headlines "Joe Paterno used e-mail."  The real story was that Joe's assistant, Sandy Segursky, typed out the e-mail on Joe's behalf in 2007 - after the Meridian fight.  But the article reads:

 "Paterno wrote to Spanier and Curley using an email account used by the coach’s assistant, Sandi Segursky."
The assumption made was absolutely ludicrous.  Joe Paterno, who doesn't want people to know that he uses e-mail, typed an e-mail on his assistant's computer?    

The source of this trash was Vicky Triponey, who also accused Paterno of sending text messages.  Septaugenerian Paterno texting?  As Joe once said, "I can't download a jar of peanut butter."

At one point, Triponey says, witnesses—most of whom were footballers—were ordered to appear at a judicial hearing, as was school policy. But Paterno sent a text message to the whole team, saying, “If you show up for this, you’re off.”

However, as crazy as these allegations were, the media had a new heroine in Vicky Triponey.  

Did Tripony ever produce this text message?  Not that I've ever seen.

But she was lauded in the press as the woman who exposed Joe Paterno as a fraud.  And although not named in the Freeh Report, there is little doubt that she was the source for the unsubstantiated finding of "a culture of reverence to the football program" at Penn State.

Repeating A Story Appears to Make It True
Apparently, using message boards to get the latest news is standard practice among today's "journalists."

Here's Glamour magazine on Sara Ganim:

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. 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."

Here's The New York Times' Jo Becker:

Wild rumors, of course, get thrown around on college sports message boards all the time. (We would know; we’re on them constantly. We can’t get enough of them.) More often than not, there’s nothing to them. Clearly, though, that wasn’t the case this time. And while we would stop short of saying this is an endorsement for throwing every crazy thing you’ve heard up on the internet and seeing if it leads anywhere, when something of this magnitude turns out to be on point…well, it goes a long way toward justifying the sea of inanity.

Of course, that a message board "tip" or anonymous e-mail tip helped break the Sandusky case is anything but a fact.  Like many of the so-called facts in the case, it provides an explanation of how something might have occurred, but for all we know, it too could be a fabrication to cover up how the McQueary incident was really discovered. 

It very well could be that at an early stage of the investigation, the OAG investigators asked CYS to check their logs and they found the PSU complaint.  Rather than admitting that CYS had this complaint in its records, the AG simply concocted a story that they knew an uniformed hoard would buy.  

And in the Sandusky case, the public and the media bought into every story that Nils Frederickson threw out there.  

  • That McQueary witnessed a rape and told PSU officials all the details.
  • That Ray Gricar and the police let Sandusky off the hook in 1998 (hardly a mention of the CYS/DPW investigation)
  • That Central Mountain HS did everything right in reporting Sandusky (it was Mike Gillum at Clinton County CYS that told the school they had to ban Sandusky)
  • That the investigators, despite obstruction by PSU officials, linked the abuse to Sandusky's relationship to The Second Mile (I'm speechless) 
Once these fabrications were made public, the story was seemingly set.  The phenomenon is called "anchoring" in psychological terms (some SSMSS contributors will write more about this soon).  Once people's beliefs are anchored, it's very difficult to change their minds, no matter how much evidence is presented that refutes the story.

We saw this with the Duke Lacrossse Case (privileged white students raped a black woman), the Exxon Valdez (the captain was drunk), George W. Bush National Guard service (Bush was AWOL), and with the Olympic Park bombing (Richard Jewell was the bomber - according to then FBI Director Freeh and the media).

Unchaining the Anchor

Unfortunately, it's almost impossible to "unchain the anchor."  In the cases above, all were eventually refuted when new facts surfaced.
  • Duke Lacrosse - the DA Nifong hid exculpatory DNA evidence
  • Exxon Valdez - the NTSB found it was faulty navigation equipment
  • Bush - the Thornburg Commission confirmed CBS was overzealous 
  • Jewell - Eric Robert Rudolph was the bomber
And so, it will be the same in the Sandusky case and the alleged cover-up by PSU officials.  

New evidence will surface that will prove that the entire narrative of a PSU cover-up was false.  Whether that comes from information surfacing from AG Kane's investigation or other sources remains to be seen.

But it's coming. 

And that's not a rumor.


  1. Ray,
    Is anyone going to admitt this whole mess was just a very erroneous plot to single out one person as the fall guy? The more I read, and I try to read as much as possible, it is very hard for me to think otherwise.

    1. Well, maybe someone will admit to it on the stand. We'll have to wait for the trial......but not the trial that everyone is talking about now.

  2. One note about Triponey . . . all her claims were eventually refuted by a faculty senate investigation:

  3. Ray, I'm praying you know something but are not at liberty to disclose the information yet. I could die a happy man knowing this ridiculous narrative was exposed. Thanks for what you do.

  4. Excellent Ray! Jonesy got called out on Twitter on his NonStory Story. Interesting concept this "anchoring". This was carried out quite handily at Freeh's Grandstanding Press Conference this past July. Louie hurled that prescribed narrative out into the masses in the ballroom & across the Interwebz.

    Which I find even more preposterous when the BOT insists they "only" commissioned that report for the recommendations found within. Louie & Ken Frazier (and Mark Emmert) played the Media and knew full well what they were doing.

    We all know Freeh's report contains no smoking's a water pistol at best. That Presser was simply staged to toss the largest anchor out there. Unfortunately, our BoT continues to re-arrange the deck chairs on their own sinking ship. I am one of many that will toss each and every one of those Nov. 2011 Trustees an anchor...forget the life ring.

  5. The Anchoring Effect is a fascinating one - and unfortunately something people who work with data or evidence constantly run into.

    1. Jeff,
      Thanks for the article. BTW, I guessed the population of Venezuela as 30M....but I was a geography major as an undergrad.

      Thanks for your support!

  6. I would recommend 2 documentaries: "Hot Coffee" (which is on netflix) covers the infmous case of the woman who was burned by hot coffee at McDonalds and sued. Very revealing is that MOST people do not know the facts of the case, and most people also don't know that a lot of the misinformation that formed the narrative was placed in the media by a PR firm hired by McDonalds. "Central Park Five" hits closer to home . . . we all remember the "wilding" incident, when 5 youths allegedly raped and beat a woman jogging in Central Park. The facts of the case will shock you. Not only were they innocent, later exonerated after years in jail, but Ken Burns does a great job of exposing the media's complicity in fomenting public outrage to these 5 innocent kids.

    Anchoring is very real, but there is also the law of intended consequences. That is, I think the Executive Committe of Board of Trustees (along with Erickson) accomplished exactly what they set out to accomplish, aided by a lazy and disinterested media that was more than willing to run any wild accusation against Joe Paterno, despite a lack of evidence.

  7. I just finished watching a documentary on how lobbying works in the United States government and it inspired me to do a little research....MBNA contributed $1250 to Corbett in 2004 while Freeh was General Counsel and on the Board of Directors of MBNA(2001-2006). While Freeh was at MBNA, they contributed thousands to the Second Mile. While Freeh was at MBNA they had a multi-million dollar relationship w/ Penn State University. From what I gather, it is impossible to ignore the fact that Freeh has had a very obvious relationship w/ State College, Penn State, and the Pennsylvania state government. If you follow the money, the relationships are obvious. I don't have evidence to prove that Freeh is guilty of conspiring against Paterno, Curley, Shultz or Spanier, but I do find it very odd he wouldn't disclose the relationships noted above. In fact, Freeh made it very clear he didn't have any bias or relationships previous to the investigation that would in turn compromise its "independence". Why keep these relationships a secret???

    conspiracy [kənˈspɪrəsɪ]
    n pl -cies
    1. a secret plan or agreement to carry out an illegal or harmful act, esp with political motivation; plot
    2. the act of making such plans in secret

    So far it seems like Freeh, Corbett, and the Special Investigative Committee have been successful in accomplishing #1 of the aforementioned. But thanks to the grassroots efforts such as those embarked upon by Mr Blehar and many others, the conspiracy is beginning to unfold nd the secrets are slowly becoming publicized. There is nothing to get the mind stimulated like a good conspiracy unfolded. Unfortunately for the media they will have to start from scratch as the real conspiracy is unraveled and told. It's logical to think that the same media that were wrong about Paterno will do everything in their power to resist the truth to save their image, but then again doesnt starting from scratch just translate into more content?

    Lesson learned-FOLLOW THE MONEY. It's not ironic that Joe didn't contribute to Corbett's campaign (or any Pennsylvania's govenor campaign) for this exact reason. He understood the conflict of interest between the governor and it's automatic appointment to the board. The way I see it, it's just another life lesson learned from Mr Paterno.

    1. Thank you, Jon S. Only Deadspin has attempted to make the connection, but they need to do better research.

  8. There are SO many cognitive biases at work on this story (and in the public in general - sigh) but the Confirmation Bias and the Hindsight Bias are certainly two of the biggies here. The Anchoring Effect is a subset of the Confirmation Bias as well - although Anchoring talks about how we FORM opinions, Confirmation talks about how we hold on to them.

    These are HUGE problems in how everyday people fail to use critical thinking skills.

    Here's another favorite of mine: the Dunning-Kruger effect. Explains why a former NFL lineman employed at ESPN is suddenly considered a legal expert and smarter than say, a former AG and governor of PA

  9. Isn't it odd that the Penn State "Truthers" are the ones being labeled conspiracy theorists, yet it is Freeh himself who himself through out the word "conspiracy" (as in "conspiracy to conceal") in describing his allegation that Paterno/Curley/Schultz/Spanier all acting together to cover-up this mess.

    So why the HECK is Freeh not labeled a conspiracy theorist? Heck, he's the one making the grand assumptions and tying random events together, cherry-picking pieces of evidence together to weave a false narrative.

    Its time to label Freeh as a conspiracy theorist and use his OWN WORDS against him.

  10. Exactly, Jeff W. This may be a tactic that would hook the media into the "investigations of the investigation". I.e., labelling Louis Freeh a conspiracy theorist could in and of itself create a new headline-grabbing story for the mainstream media! This story could include an in-depth analysis of Freeh and his record!! Hey...I'd read it!!!

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