Friday, July 18

Patriot News, Part 1 of 9: Chapter 9, The Pulitzer Prize

“We never lost sight of what the true story was. Sara and the staff kept focused on what was important.”
Patriot News Publisher, John Kirkpatrick

Ray Blehar

On April 17, 2012, the Pulitzer committee announced that the Patriot News (P-N) was the Pulitzer Prize winner for local reporting for its coverage of the “explosive Penn State sex scandal.”   The citation read:

“Awarded to Sara Ganim and members of The Patriot-News Staff, Harrisburg, Penn., for courageously revealing and adeptly covering the explosive Penn State sex scandal involving former football coach Jerry Sandusky.”

The fact that the Pulitzer committee would refer to the scandal as the “Penn State sex scandal” was a reflection of the biased coverage by the P-N.  Had the paper of record honestly reported the facts of the Sandusky matter, it would have revealed a problem of much more significant scope that continues to endanger every child in Pennsylvania.  

In order to craft a false narrative of a “Penn State sex scandal,” the P-N’s Pulitzer winning coverage avoided any in-depth coverage of three significant issues in the child abuse investigation of Jerry Sandusky:

·         The Pennsylvania statute regarding child abuse reporting;
·         The practices and procedures for child abuse investigations; and,
·         The roles and responsibilities child protective services.

By not addressing these areas in its scandal coverage, the failures by the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP), Office of Attorney General (OAG) investigators, child welfare agents from the Department of Public Welfare (DPW), Centre County Children and Youth Services (CYS), and individuals from The Second Mile (TSM) charity, all of whom were responsible for protecting the children from Sandusky, were not made known to the public.  

P-N Publisher John Kirkpatrick’s statement that the paper “never lost sight of the true story” was nonsense.

The true story was never written.

In late November 2011, the P-N (inadvertently?) revealed that Sara Ganim had obtained the 1998 University Park police report early in 2011.  Evidence revealed she used it to break the story of the Sandusky grand jury investigation.  

When Ganim's reporting is viewed through the lens of her having knowledge of the 1998 investigation of Sandusky, it becomes clear that she reported known falsehoods, obfuscated facts, and biased her reports to excuse the failings of the Department of Public Welfare (DPW).  In addition, P-N editor David Newhouse also avoided any mention of the 1998 police report when he described how Ganim "broke" the story.  Three of the paper's Pulitzer submissions contained falsehoods and/or inaccuracies related to the 1998 report.

The P-N submitted ten works to the Pulitzer committee for the judging of its coverage.  Each work varied in terms of accuracy and expertise; however, most of the columns contained errors that were obvious to anyone familiar with the details of the case.  Each of those stories should have been corrected and, in some cases, front page corrections should have been run.  However, as history reveals, the P-N has not corrected the vast majority of errors that plagued its articles.

The Pulitzer jurors [1], due to their geographic dispersion, likely worked from their understanding of the scandal based on national headlines, thus would not recognize many of the inaccuracies in the stories. 

A summary of each Pulitzer nominated story follows.  Please note that some of the errors cited in these stories are errors which the Pulitzer committee could have found if they had done a minimum of fact-checking.

A brief summary of errors, omissions, and biases for each story follow.

Story #1:   Jerry Sandusky, former Penn State football staffer, subject of grand jury investigation March 31, 2011. Sara Ganim boasted the facts in this story "were 100 percent accurate."

Two errors regarding the date the Sandusky investigation began.
Error about when Aaron Fisher’s abuse began.
Error regarding who reported Fisher's incident to Clinton County CYS.
Omission of failures to follow interview procedures by police and child welfare.

Failures to call out the phony retirement of Jerry Sandusky from The Second Mile (TSM)
Failure to identify suspected abuse during TSM programs.
Lack of clarity regarding inflation of number of children served by the charity.

Dawn Daniels, the mother of Aaron Fisher, lashed out at Central Mountain High School more than she did PSU - headline was misleading.
Failure to identify child abuse reporting statute requirements.
Failure to identify failures of CMHS officials to protect children and ensure school safety.

Fabricated a “reporting chain” at PSU regarding the 2001 incident.
Published known falsehood of McQueary reporting an “anal rape.”
Failure to differentiate child abuse reporting requirements between PSU and TSM.

Incorrect date on the AG’s supervision of the case.
Incorrect time frame of  recovery of the 1998 police report.
Failure to prioritize investigative missteps.
Exaggerated role of Frank Noonan and additional investigators in finding victims.

Very little coverage about the TSM official - headline was misleading.
Article mostly focused on lack of transparency in management of TSM.
Did not make clear that Sandusky’s official retirement was a ruse.
Did not report that the charity permitted Sandusky to access children after his abuse finding.

Focused on insignificant relationships between PSU and TSM.
Excluded major business relationships between TSM Board and PSU.
Excluded naming many PSU BOT members who donated to the charity.
Wrote false narrative that PSU built its brand through TSM (opposite was true).

Repeated false story of  2004 kitchen table meeting of Paterno and PSU officials.
Claimed that Paterno “commanded a generous salary” when he was a very modestly paid coach compared to other major college football coaches.

Did not fully report all of the versions of Mike McQueary’s story.
No mention of how the child abuse reporting statute applied to individuals involved.

No mention of child abuse reporting statute.
No mention of requirements for a perjury conviction.
No mention of expunging unfounded abuse reports.

Go here to download the full analysis of each of the Pulitzer stories (33 page report).

[1] Sherry Chisenhall, editor and vice president, news, The Wichita Eagle (Chair)Nicole Carroll, vice president, news and executive editor, The Arizona Republic, Kevin Dale, news director, The Denver Post, Jane Hirt, managing editor, Chicago Tribune, John Winn Miller, publisher, The Concord (NH) Monitor, Debra Adams Simmons, editor, The Plain Dealer, Cleveland, OH, William Snyder*, professor and chair, photojournalism, Rochester Institute of Technology


  1. The Patriot News Staff and Sara Ganim were provided the link to the "Guidelines for Child Molestation Investigations" from the Center for Missing and Exploited Children prior to story #4 and story #5 but chose to ignore those guidelines, keeping in step with the AG office and PSP. Ignoring children for the sensationalizing of a story is the real cover up.

    The P-N knows what lead they had and chose to ignore in search of the sensational but misleading headlines and now they have to continue the deception.

    1. Thanks for the information, Mike.

      I just posted a comment on PennLive that pointed out information they had covered up about the case. It was deleted immediately.

      It doesn't matter. As we learned from the Moulton report, they were avid readers of and probably read this blog too. The AG knows about the P-N covering up the real story.

  2. Joseph Pulitzer was one of the most infamous yellow journalists of all time. I argue the prize was awarded appropriately. :^)