Wednesday, September 10

Barron Lied About "Civility" E-mail and PSU Hasn't Learned Anything Since 11/9/11

President Barron's statement that there was nothing behind his "civility" message was proven a lie on Monday.  It appears PSU hasn't learned anything about communicating since 11/9/11.

Ray Blehar

Penn State's response in the aftermath of the Sandusky scandal earned them the dubious distinction of being labeled at the worst public relations disasters of 2011 and 2012.   In those analyses, PSU was not only criticized for mangling the PR related to the scandal but for operating in secrecy.

Based on the message and video released by President Barron and then his follow up message, it appears that PSU still has not learned its lessons about either subject.  

Lesson 1 appears to be that any communication and decision from Old Main will be put under a microscope and weighed for its meaning, possible hidden meaning, and/or motivation. And if something negative can be gleaned from the message, it will be.

Lesson 2 appears to be the old adage, "those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it." 

Lesson 3 goes back to the original blunder made in the Sandusky scandal of being not being open and not controlling the narrative.

Lesson 4 is that Penn State alumni are not stupid and won't be taken in by the Administration's lies.

Barron's messages are just more examples of the PSU Administration not learning any of the lessons from the Sandusky scandal fallout. 

Lessons 1 (scrutiny):   Barron's first e-mail was subject to many interpretations. First, it was addressed "Dear Friends," it spoke in generalities, and, quite frankly, left many people scratching their heads over what it was he was trying to say.  

PSU spokesperson Lisa Powers stated there was no specific incident that triggered the message but there is a growing amount of incivility in communications nationwide and the begging of the semester seemed like the right time to address the issue.  However, part of Powers prepared statement said:

"Within our own University, we have seen disagreements that have been uncivil, and comments that are downright rude on some of the issues we have faced."

As a result, numerous media outlets took this not as a discussion of a "national issue" but focused on the disagreements within the University.  And of course, it was tied to the Sandusky scandal and the media immediately jumped on the alumni as the one's guilty of being uncivil.   Ironically, some of those criticizing the alumni, like Joel Mathis and Tom Ley  also were uncivil by calling us "crazy truthers."

Lesson hopefully learned?  Speak when you have something really important say and make sure the message is clear, otherwise it will be picked apart.  

Ironically, a January 2013 article in the Chicago Tribune cited PSU's PR firm Edelman's founder, Dan Edelman, when reporting on how trivial stories get elevated into something everyone is supposed to care about.
Barron: Disingenuous about intent of
the now infamous civility e-mail
However, given what transpired on Monday, President Barron (and Powers) were both disingenuous regarding the true intent of the letter. I suspect that the Board and the Administration knew that some, but not all, the sanctions would be reduced.  They also likely knew that Paterno's wins wouldn't be restored and apparently feared a backlash -- thus the admonitions about "incivility."

President Barron, I think your honeymoon may have just ended.

Lesson 2 (history):  Perhaps when President Barron was hired in February 2014, he, like most others outside PSU, didn't follow the scandal that closely and relied on initial reports to form the basis for his beliefs.  However, after his arrival PSU was criticized  for its siding with the NCAA in having the pre-trial documents sealed from the public in the Paterno, Et Al, vs. Paterno lawsuit.  In their argument to keep the documents sealed, the University stated that the Paterno family would try to use the documents "to influence public opinion."  

In his letter, Barron stated:

"We are likely never to have the full story. We are equally likely never to reach consensus."

Those two statements tell the world two things.  PSU will continue to resist "openness and transparency" about the scandal and that PSU is entrenched in its position.  It is clear that the Board, Administration, and PSU legal counsel, Steven Dunham have decided that whatever happened leading up to the Freeh Report and NCAA Consent Decree needs to be protected from public scrutiny. 

Alas, Barron, the Board, and the Administration are truly living in the past in sticking with their position to back the NCAA.  In July 2012 and for some time after that, they were in synch with the media in blaming the football program and athletics for the Sandusky debacle.  That has now changed to a chorus of NCAA detractors who now admit the ruling body of collegiate athletics overstepped its authority in punishing Penn State and in how it operates in general.

NCAA at breaking point?
Monday's roll back of the sanctions brought more heat down on the NCAA for overstepping its authority.  But it was just one more round in a long line of beatings that the NCAA has taken of late.   

The NCAA was criticized for its handling of the Miami (FL) and its North Carolina investigations.  In addition, it lost the O'Bannon case and in so doing lost its long-held, but false, admonition that it was focused on promoting the ideal of the student-athlete  precluded paying them.  Of course, the student-athlete argument fell apart in its punishment of PSU, who was, and still is, one of the role models for combining athletic and academic success.  

The bottom line is that Barron, et al, by continuing to on the path of siding with the NCAA, is doomed for failure.  

The writing is on the wall after Monday.

Lesson 3 (openness/narrative):  After getting the distinction of the worst PR disaster in 2011, in the spring of 2012, PSU hired David "No Comment" LaTorre to assist the PR team.  If there has been one thing singled out as the biggest failure among the PR staff it was the failure to take control of the narrative from the outset of the scandal.  In 2011, it was the PR shut down by John Surma at the outset of the scandal, then the Board's decisions to fire Paterno and Spanier that caused the PR disaster.

However, when other news breaks, those become opportunities to take control -- and that is something that LaTorre rarely if ever has done.  

As a result, 2012's PR was just as bad as 2011.  For example, when bits and pieces of emails were leaked in the press, PSU was not open or frank in discussing the emails and rightfully condemning the leaks.  PR spokesman David LaTorre didn't comment and instead stated the University would wait for the Freeh Report.  From PennLive:

La Torre only said that the administration and board are reserving comment until the report from an internal investigation — led by former FBI Director Louis Freeh — is released this summer.

Freeh Press Conference: An epic media
debacle brought to you by the PSU BOT
Of course, the Freeh Press conference ranked right up there with the grand jury presentment, in terms of generating negative publicity.  While the Board agreed to Freeh releasing his report without review, there was no requirement for Freeh to do so in front of a world-wide media audience.  Similarly, the Board's statements after release of the Freeh Report - before they had fully reviewed it -- obviously contributed to the disaster.  Had the board rebutted the report, as many, myself included, urged them to do, things may have turned out very differently.  Instead, no control of the narrative resulted in Business Insider citing the (unchallenged) Freeh Report in as the reason why PSU took the #1 position in 2012.  

The bad decisions, seemingly without thought of the message, continued into 2013 and 2014. Among the worst of the decisions was to consolidate the Sandusky crimes that were accumulated for a decade and a half and report them under a single year in its 2012 Clery Act Report.  This propelled PSU into the #1 spot for the number of sexual battery incidents on college campuses.   Again, PSU spokesperson Lisa Powers commented that the University didn't mind the extra scrutiny if others could learn from our example.   Quite frankly, there are a lot of other things Penn State does very well, such as academic support for athletes, that would have been a far better choice to promote than the University's inept decisions in filling out a Clery Act report.

Which brings us back to the Barron communications and that there could have been little thought given to what narrative would be written as a result of them.  And, as a result, the narrative that emanated was that PSU has a "civility" problem.

Lesson 4 (underestimating the audience).  It is hard to fathom why the Board and the Administration believe that they can make ridiculous statements to the alumni and PSU community in general and think that the well-educated group of people are simply going to believe whatever they say.   For goodness sakes, most of us were educated at PSU.  

Peetz and Frazier: Emails obtained via RTK reveal
disdain for alumni and Paterno's accomplishments
Does the Administration and Board really have that much disrespect for the academic prowess of the University?   I don't think so.

The communications emanating from Old Main are controlled by a small group of people, who had great disdain for the football program and athletics in general. Those people happily drove the "culture" message and continue to push the idea that those who want to fight  for the reputation of the University -- and the full truth being exposed -- are somehow living in the past.

On Monday, University's self-congratulatory statement on sanctions reductions was a bitter pill for many alumni to swallow, as it reinforced the narrative that there were improvements needed to improve the "integrity" of athletics at PSU.  

"The NCAA Executive Committee has modified the Penn State football bowl and scholarship limitations previously imposed by the consent decree between the University and the NCAA. The action comes following today's release of another positive annual report and recommendations by Sen. George Mitchell, the independent, third-party athletics integrity monitor for Penn State."

As I noted in yesterday's blog, Mitchell reported that the recommendations for the AIA were completed in November 2013.  And in a previous blog, I demonstrated that most of the so-called improvements were not needed based on PSU's outstanding track record for compliance and academic success.  The alumni and PSU community know the athletic integrity issue was and is a farce.

Similarly, BOT chair Keith Masser's self-congratulatory statement also was rooted in the false narrative that the University was in dire need of reform.

"This report is a welcome acknowledgement of the University's efforts," said Board of Trustees Chair Keith Masser. "Such a massive undertaking has made Penn State a national model in an array of university functions - including compliance, safety and security. I commend President Barron and his predecessor, Rodney Erickson, for their tremendous leadership throughout this process. The Board of Trustees is committed to the continued monitoring and improvement of university policies, procedures and actions."

The fact of the matter was and is that it was (and still is) the Board of Trustees that was in need of reform and that the majority of the "improvements" made in the past two years were akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the titanic.   

Additionally, the report by Mitchell that all recommendations were completed is false.  To wit:

Freeh Report Recommendation 3.3 Board of Trustee Restructuring was reported complete as of June 2012.  Mitchell reports about this ongoing effort on pages 52, 54, and 55 of his latest report.

Freeh Report Recommendation 1.6 is Openess and Transparency and was reported as "ongoing and continuous."  If Mitchell was doing his job as an honest monitor, he would have  stated that this is one of the greatest areas for improvement and is far, far from complete.

These are just two examples, however, they are emblematic of the Administration's and Board's failure to understand that its alumni are intelligent and resourceful individuals who will hold them to account when they are being untruthful about the issues related to the Sandusky scandal and its aftermath.

The history of the bad decisions resulting from the Sandusky scandal and the bad publicity from those decisions, lead many people to believe that there is something far worse being hidden by the University.   

Barron's own words also appear to indicate that the truth will never be known.  However, the fact of the matter is beyond the control of the University.  It is in the of the courts and the criminal justice system. 

When the truth is revealed, it is very likely that PSU will be ensnared in another scandal -- if it continues on its current PR path.


  1. Excellent article Ray! I especially agree with, and have long pondered your point made here in Lesson 4: "underestimating the audience". These self-interested corporate members on the board are essentially holding the PSU BoT hostage. They are trying to dupe an intellectual community with a very extensive, collective academic mind. In history, all the revisionism and bullying of intellectuals has always been exposed in the end. When a fascist regime begins to develop, the first ones to be imprisoned or executed are the scholars that could easily expose the falsehoods of the fascist leaders.

    With this Second Mile Sandusky child victim farm, there are the non-intellectual, but monetarily powerful corporate players trying to silence the threat to their secrets. Just as I stated before in another post, this goes back to President Eisenhower's warning of the "military/industrial complex". Eisenhower was beginning to see that industry, or what we now commonly refer to as corporate, was gaining enough wealth to actually influence and/or undermine our government. I think he began to see large-scale "revisions" being made within the military without his approval and/or knowledge. This corporate influence is now corrupting and undermining our institutions of higher learning. This is evident in this Second Mile, Merck/Vioxx, Freeh Group, Pepper Hamilton take-over at Penn State University. This sort of uncivil, cutthroat corporate influence simply should not be tolerated in any university anywhere in this country. The very fact that deception and untruths is the modus operandi by which they infiltrate and survive, conflicts entirely with the notion that academic freedom is the purpose of the university.
    Also, most of the general public, whether educated or not, is starting to see through the absurd, ham-fisted front being put up by the corporate board members at PSU. Ken "Vioxx" Frazier has shown us just how good he is at downplaying the deaths of an estimated 500,000 people killed by his corporation's negligence. And he's shown us just how uncivil he can be with his racist tirade directed at Bill Cluck. So why would anyone trust this man Frazier and his steadfast endorsement of the ludicrous Freeh report?

    On another note Ray, please allow me to express a few thoughts on the highly suspect Louis Freeh "crash". The latest so-called revelation is that there is a "witness" that claims there where 3 vehicles threatened by Louis Freeh's "out of control" car. Who is this guy, Vernon Coleman? Why the delay in coming forward? Possibly because it took a few days for a wire transfer of funds from the Freeh camp to go into his account? And such detail he has of everything: "Freeh's head was down, he was really out", "it was pretty intense, he slammed into a tree, the front was really dented in, he had a gash to his temple". The part about "slamming into the tree" is suspect because all the papers said the car simply came to rest against the tree. And the photos only show a small section of bark missing on the tree. And a really big red flag: where are all the as-found photos of Freeh's car? You know the pre-extrication photos that should be of all angles including the front? I think every police officer in the country is required to photograph the scene as it is found upon arrival. This lack of actual damage is possibly the reason information was delayed by the state police for so long. Time was needed to chop up the car so it wouldn't be known there was minimal damage from a staged crash. Another red flag: who is the mystery off-duty FBI agent that just happened to be passing by and was a first-responder? Is this Vernon Coleman him? If so, we're supposed to trust his story? Also, where are the other two drivers?

    1. Truthseeker,
      Quite a comment! Agree that we have seen through the BOT's inner circle's charade and have come to the conclusion that they cannot be trusted.

      On the latter point of the Freeh crash -- Freeh, his cohorts, and the media prey on a public that wants to be fooled. While many will jump all over this new story, you are correct that it should be viewed with caution. As we learned many times over, the media will exclude evidence (just like Freeh did) to support whatever narrative they want to tell.

      I haven't checked lately, but perhaps you could search to see if anyone in the media is checking out Vernon Coleman. If not, you can bet this part of the ruse.

  2. Well done Ray.

    I don't see how all those intelligent people at Penn State can repeat the same PR mistakes over and over. It makes Barron look weak that he had to get all those other people to sign the civility email for what was supposedly his thoughts. Did they feel forced to agree and sign, a la Emperor's New Clothes, or didn't any of them realize what a PR blunder it would be?

    There are glimmers of hope in the email but Barron didn't follow up on them, e.g. "Much is still left to interpretation ... We are likely never to have the full story."

    Barron's message should have stopped after the first two paragraphs, and he should have then announced he would be having a series of public meetings around the state to discuss alumni concerns about "whether our institution acted appropriately, how our institution handled a crisis, and whether the sanctions that resulted are appropriate." That would indicate some leadership.

    1. Tim,
      Thank you and I agree "his" message should have been opening an invitation. Like I wrote in the article, the inner circle is running the comms from Old Main.

      I call em' like I see em.'

      Back in November 2013, my presentation in State College talked about the BOT's power play on 11/9/11 and how they cut off the two other heads of "leadership" at PSU (Spanier and Joe). That was done to put them in charge and a selectors of the President, they would select weak, puppets.

      Barron might as well wear a sock over his head.

  3. Perhaps it's too much of a coincidence that the "civility" communication came out just before PSU announced having hired a media relations flak as the new VP of Strategic Communications? "Through effective communications and marketing, the Office of Strategic Communications helps to position and bring greater impact and recognition to Penn State as a national and international leader among America’s premier universities." The announcement says that the Board of Trustees is set to rubberstamp, I mean approve, his appointment at the next board meeting.

    1. I think it had more to do with the anticipated "blow back" over the sanctions not being completely eliminated.

      Barron's ear has likely been filled by people who have told them how irrational and uncivil we are....JoeBOTs, Paterno Worshippers, blah, blah, blah...and to expect a lot of blow back. Instead he got a lot of blowback for his stupid email.