Thursday, April 9

Media Culpa: Rolling Stone Admits Mistakes in UVa "Rape" Story, USAToday Reveals Blind Spot

Rolling Stone responded to critics by having an outside review of its journalistic practices on the UVa rape story, while USAToday revealed its blindspot by not recognizing it and the entire media committed the very same mistakes in the Penn State cover up story.


Ray Blehar

An independent report published by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism made it clear that Rolling Stone writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely and her editors ignored basic journalism rules in publishing a story that alleged a gang rape of a co-ed by University of Virginia fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi.  The summary of Columbia's report stated:

“Rolling Stone’s repudiation of the main narrative in “A Rape on Campus” is a story of journalistic failure that was avoidable. The failure encompassed reporting, editing, editorial supervision and fact-checking. The magazine set aside or rationalized as unnecessary essential practices of reporting that, if pursued, would likely have led the magazine’s editors to reconsider publishing Jackie’s narrative so prominently, if at all. The published story glossed over the gaps in the magazine’s reporting by using pseudonyms and by failing to state where important information had come from.

In late March, after a four-month investigation, the Charlottesville, Va., police department said that it had “exhausted all investigative leads” and had concluded, “There is no substantive basis to support the account alleged in the Rolling Stone article.”

The story’s blowup comes as another shock to journalism’s credibility amid head-swiveling change in the media industry. The particulars of Rolling Stone’s failure make clear the need for a revitalized consensus in newsrooms old and new about what best journalistic practices entail, at an operating-manual-level of detail.

Give Rolling Stone credit for taking the initiative to have the Columbia school review what happened and admitting its mistakes.  However, some of Rolling Stone's critics, most notably USAToday, similarly didn't let facts stand in the way of drawing an incorrect parallel between the UVa and Duke cases.

Apparently, the word "rape" seems to cloud the judgment of journalists across the country.

USAToday Wrongly Compares Duke and UVa

USAToday, who criticized the Rolling Stone's journalistic failings, deserves criticism for its own journalistic failings in stating the cause of the Duke lacrosse scandal to the UVa rape case were the same. While there were many commonalities between the two cases, including a false allegation of rape and rushes to judgment by those involved, its conclusion that pre-conceived notions were involved in the two cases was indeed wrong.  

From the closing of USAToday's op-ed:

"If there is an overriding lesson to be learned from this debacle, and a similar case several years ago involving members of the Duke lacrosse team, it is that everyone — from journalists to advocates to administrators — should avoid a rush to judgment based on preconceived notions."

Anyone who knows the facts of the Duke case also knows that it wasn't a case of pre-conceived notions that drove the rush to judgment and media frenzy.  A reporter didn't show up on the Duke campus with an agenda to report about privileged white males raping poor African-American strippers. 

No, the Duke media feeding frenzy was caused by a false rape allegation and its backing by an overzealous prosecutor (Mike Nifong) with an ulterior motive.  And those who actually know the facts of the PSU scandal, know that the Duke and Penn State cases are almost carbon copies -- except that the media malpractice in the PSU case is far worse.

The differences in the media’s response to the PSU case versus the Duke case were dramatically different. In the Duke case, when accuser Crystal Mangum's story kept changing and when the specter of evidence suppression was raised, the media changed course.  

When similar events occurred in the PSU case, USAToday (and others in the media) did minimal fact checking and selectively used facts to keep the Penn State cover-up narrative alive.  In other words, they used the Rolling Stone's methods from the UVa story.

From the Columbia report:

Erdely’s reporting records and interviews with participants make clear that the magazine did not pursue important reporting paths... 

The editors made judgments about attribution, fact-checking and verification that greatly increased their risks of error...

The reference to "pursing important reporting paths" translates to Rolling Stone accepting the accuser's story without any corroboration by her friends or by the accused (Phi Psi members).


Similarly, the media accepted Crystal Mangum report against Duke and the grand jury report's version of McQueary rape allegation without any corroborating evidence.  

That brings us back to the beginning of USAToday's Op-Ed....

"Journalists know that a juicy tip often falls apart once they begin digging into the facts. That possibility has given rise to a cynical saying about a story that's "too good to check."

The point is that the more sensational the allegation, the more scrupulously it needs to be investigated. And if the original tip doesn't survive scrutiny, so be it."

The statement shows just how oblivious USAToday is to its own lack of scrutiny and failure to scrupulously investigate the allegations of a Penn State cover-up.  

Sandusky Grand Jury Report Too Good To Check

In the PSU cover-up hoax, the original "tip" - which was the "rape" allegation in the Sandusky grand jury presentment - certainly fit the description of a "sensational allegation."   And the media's coverage of it reflected the sentiment that the "story" in the grand jury presentment was "too good to check."

From the presentment (pages 6 and 7): 

"He saw a naked boy, Victim 2, whose age he estimated to be ten years old, with his hands up against the wall, being subjected to anal intercourse by a naked Sandusky."

The image of Sandusky (forcibly) anally raping a little boy became anchored in the public's minds by continuous repeating of the allegation by the media.  There was no ambiguity at all about what the word "rape" meant in the Sandusky case in November 2011.  But by June 2012, that would all change to ensure the Penn State cover-up story remained. 

Between November 2011 and June 2012, there were ample opportunities for the media to poke holes in law enforcement's version of events -- as they did in the UVa and Duke cases -- but they didn't.   To pull that off, the media selectively believed the parts of narrative that fit and threw away the parts that didn't.

First, it was completely out of character - and a sensational story -- for a forthright person like Joe Paterno to turn a blind eye to a report of rape.  However, it was not just Paterno who was alleged to have done so.  At the time of the presentment, six different people were named who were told of the incident by McQueary -- and none of them called the police.

Apparently, the collective judgment of six people was trumped by a grand jury presentment that stated that a 28 year old eyewitness to a rape, who didn't report the crime, was "extremely credible."   Yes, the media believed that story.  

But it gets better.

On November 16th, McQueary added new information that he contacted the police about the incident and stated he broke up the "rape" before leaving the locker room.  The media didn't embrace the part of McQueary's story about contacting police, which would have blown away the cover up story.  They quickly cross checked to see if a police report existed.  It didn't.  

Sara Ganim, the lead reporter on the case, then somehow "surfaced" McQueary's original handwritten statement to the police, which made no mention of contacting police about the incident or that he had intervened to stop the alleged incident in the shower.

Under normal circumstances, the credibility of McQueary's rape allegation would have been questioned, given that none of his new statements could be corroborated.  But the "too good to be checked" story drove reporters to abandon journalistic ethics and do what it took to keep the cover-up story alive.

Just weeks later bigger news would come (and be ignored).  

At the December 16th preliminary hearing for Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, McQueary admitted he did not provide specific details nor use the words "anal sex," "anal intercourse," or "sodomy" when making his brief report to Paterno or other PSU officials.

McQueary at 72:  "I never used the word anal or rape in this -- since day one."

It was as if McQueary's testimony didn't happen.  The story of Paterno and PSU officials not responding to a report of a "rape” persisted up to and even after the not guilty verdict at the trial.

A "Cover-Up" Story That Was Too Good To Check

From the outset, the preposterous story of a PSU cover-up was kept alive by the media's flat out refusal to logically evaluate evidence that was present in the grand jury report.  

Again, in a commonality among the three cases, emotion, not facts and logic, ruled the day.

First, why didn't McQueary - a 28 year old graduate assistant at the time of the incident - not immediately report the rape of the child to the police himself?  Why should a 28 year old man need the advice and counsel of a then septuagenarian football coach in order to know what to do?  

McQueary got a pass from the media because they fell for the emotional ruses used by the Attorney General throughout the case.

The Attorney General softened the backlash that would normally have come down upon McQueary by emphasizing the story that he was distraught and shaken by what he saw.   While many in the public didn't fall for the ruse, and labeled McQueary as a coward, the media went soft on him.

Not so ironically, the same sympathy would be shown to an elderly janitor who also allegedly saw Sandusky molesting a child -- and became distraught -- but didn't report the incident.  The icing on the cake was that the elderly janitor eventually became stricken by Alzheimer's, providing the media with even more reason to be sympathetic toward the man.

Deflections Missed

It was truly pathetic that the media didn't see the deflection pattern at play in the presentment, in which no blame was placed on those who truly could have stepped in and protected a child, but instead the focus was put on those who had absolutely no legal means or authority to protect the children from Sandusky.

One of the deflections involved the OAG's emphasis that Penn State's response to the scandal, which was to ban Sandusky from using its facilities with children from The Second Mile, was ineffective.   Former AG Kelly's narrative was very convincing, however, making the case that Sandusky's access to the campus as a retired coach contributed to his crimes.

"Sandusky's 'emeritus' position, alleged negotiated as part of his 1999 retirement, provided him with an office in the Lasch Football Building; unlimited access to all football facilities, including the locker room; access to all recreational facilities; a parking pass; a university Internet account; listing in the faculty directory and numerous other privileges – he had remained a regular presence on campus."

All that was missing from Kelly's narrative was evidence that his access to campus had anything to do with his crimes after the "ban" was put in place.  The media apparently was too lazy to simply do a chronological review of the crimes in the grand jury report and fell for Kelly's story about Sandusky's access to campus.    Had the media done a simple timeline of the crimes, they would have realized PSU's banned stopped future crimes on campus.

The worst case of deflection, however, had to be the OAG's statement putting the onus on PSU officials to learn the identity of the child involved in the 2001 shower incident.  

"Although Schultz oversaw the University Police as part of his position, he never... attempted to learn the identity of the child in the shower in 2002."

Apparently, the media didn't question the fact that the police were also unable to ascertain the identity of that victim after attempting to do so for approximately three years.  The OAG assertion that Schultz -- as an administrator -- should have been actively involved in police matters and outperformed trained investigators was quite unreasonable.  That fact that was completely lost on the media.

Putting all that logic aside, shouldn't the journalists following the "reporting path" on the Sandusky case, at least asked the question how PSU officials (or anyone else) could have identified the unknown victim?  

Asking that question provides an obvious answer -- that would have been a dead end for any investigator. 

The only person who could have identified the victim was the alleged perpetrator, Sandusky. And, if Sandusky had just raped this child, as the media believed, then what were the chances that he would provide the name of the actual victim?

Those closely following the case know that Sandusky evenutally provided a name and encouraged the alleged shower victim from 2001 to come forward.

As expected, the person Sandusky identified was deemed not credible, as evidenced by his absence on the potential witness lists for the prosecution and defense, as well as him not being presented as a witness at the trial. Moreover, he was not embraced by the defense team for Gary Schultz.  The latter point is particularly important, considering that Schultz's legal team had a considerable incentive to believe a victim who refuted the story of that a crime occurring in the McQueary incident.

Ironically, a credible victim never came forward claiming to be the individual seen by McQueary. In fact, McQueary also testified that he had looked this individual in the eye as he exited the shower with Sandusky.  Clearly, if this person saw McQueary - who is physically unmistakable - in the shower room, undoubtedly, he would have recalled that and came forward. It strains credulity that the most sensational and widely publicized crime in the Sandusky case didn't surface a credible victim.  

So much for USAToday (and others) scrupulously investigating sensational stories.

The Rape That Didn't Happen Didn't Matter

Seven months later, a jury didn't find McQueary's testimony of an alleged rape to be credible.  The verdict was not guilty, but the USAToday downplayed the significance of that outcome.  

USAToday's trial coverage buried the fact that the jury voted not guilty on McQueary's rape allegation deep into its column.  However, to keep the sensational story of a PSU cover up, it cited the four other sex abuse convictions related to McQueary's allegations.   

From the article:

In its verdict Friday, the Sandusky jury found the former coach not guilty of sodomy, but convicted him on four other sex abuse charges involving the victim, based on McQueary's testimony.

Let's be clear on this fact. 

The Sandusky case became a PSU scandal because of the mental image of Sandusky (forcibly) anally raping a little boy and the false narrative Paterno and other PSU officials watered down McQueary's "extremely credible" report (in order to avoid reporting it to authorities).  

In April 2012, the Pulitzer committee awarded its 2012 prize for local reporting to the Patriot News, partly based on that story.  That was before a jury concluded what six men concluded in 2001 -- Mike McQueary didn't witness a rape.

Had the Pulitzer Committee done any fact checking at all, it would have found the reporting that established the "Penn State sex scandal" was neither adept nor courageous.


The Rolling Stone story marks a high point, not a low point, for American journalism.  While the mistakes of Rolling Stone were egregious, the fact that other media outlets served as a policing mechanism to assess the credibility of "A Rape On Campus" is, in my opinion, one of the high points of journalism in my lifetime.

While USAToday and others piled on to Rolling Stone, they failed to realize that too often they join in the media pack when a sensational story appears and don't review the details with a critical eye.

Take it to the bank that a host of  "Media Culpas" will occur when the truth about the Sandusky cover up is revealed.

Updated April 9, 2015 at 6:08AM, 


  1. Ray,
    Thanks for another outstanding article exposing the truth in the Sandusky case. The manipulation of the investigation and final Presentment by the Office of the Attorney General is deplorable. The Grand Jury system in PA is a joke. Fina and company controlled the Grand Jury involvement and wrote the Presentment. Corbett used The Second Mile associates for political contributions. Linda Kelly and Fina protected The Second Mile from prosecution.

    Frank Fina, of OAG pornography fame, is the same Frank Fina who is trying to destroy AG Kathleen Kane via the Grand Jury leak charge.

  2. Even Freeh found that the Presentment was wrong when it said Sandusky's retirement deal "provided him with an office in the Lasch Football Building." Freeh had Sandusky's retirement letter as Exhibit 3H, which clearly said his office would be in the "East Area Locker Room Complex." It is hard to believe that the Attorney General's Office did not have that letter prior to the presentment being written.

    What is the deal with victim 2? After the Sandusky trial a man claiming to be victim 2 went public via 4 lawyers, and said he intended to sue Penn State. He then reportedly settled with Penn State. So is that man a fraud and not the real victim 2?

    1. Tim,
      Victim 2 officially remains unknown.

      The Victim 2 you are referencing indeed received a settlement from Penn State, however, PSU paying out money to him in no way proves he is Victim 2. Two sources confirmed that PSU paid out settlements to anyone who would accept under the minimum insurance threshold.

      The person claiming to be Victim 2 is the same person I reference in the post. Sandusky asked to come forward in September 2011. He was interview police and federal agents four times and told a different story each time.

      In November 2011, he was interviewed by Joe Amendola's investigator, who gave him a copy of the grand jury presentment to read. After he was done reading it, he gave a statement about the locker room incident that was simply a regurgitation of the presentment, including getting the dates wrong (of which he said he was absolutely sure of). He also lied about his association with The Second Mile, stating he quit participating in the sixth grade.

      During my investigation, I found a photograph of him giving a presentation as a 9th grader at a Second Mile fund raiser. Also, in Jerry Sandusky's retirement letter, he referred to this individual as a Second Mile "graduate." Typically, children "age out" of TSM when they turn 15.

      It is likely he was urged to come forward by Sandusky and Bruce Heim, a member of the Second Mile Board of Directors. The part of his story about quitting TSM was likely included in order to keep Second Mile from having any legal responsibility for failure to report child abuse regarding the 2001 incident.

  3. Wow.

    So XYZ may have fraudulently come forward, claiming to be the "McQueary V2" yet stating nothing sexual happened that night or ever with JSandusky. XYZ may have truthfully spoken and written in support of JSandusky (TSM speech, CDT LTE). Then XYZ and Andrew Shubin may have fraudulently claimed sexual abuse (by JS, of XYZ) and been rewarded $$ from PSU.

    PSU BoT just yesterday perpetuated the outrageous payouts (of monies NOT their own) to unchallenged claims of sexual abuse by JS.


    Some recurring suggestions of wrongdoing:

    The Second Mile, as a money-launderer; Bruce Heim, as an active player (e.g., pulling XYZ in & excusing men showering with boys so as to divert Raykovitz from going to police); Andrew Shubin, as an enabler of the fraud; PSUBoT, as an orchestrator of the fraud... ????

    Ironic that we may have to rely on a federal investigation to right whatever wrongs have been done.

    At least DoJ will not likely hire Louis Freeh to write the final report.

    Oh wait!!!

    1. Becky,
      The only thing in your post I have an issue with is the statement that XYZ fraudulently claimed to be a victim.

      While he isn't Victim 2, XYZ did have a long standing relationship with Sandusky and was probably subjected to some type of unwanted touching. According to Ken Lanning, many victims of abuse do not realize what was happening to them until they meet with an attorney -- who will advise them of the statutory requirements for abuse.

      Under the PA statutes, Sandusky's rubbing of legs and showering with children would qualify as child abuse. Once a course of conduct supporting a sexual attraction to minors was established, then child abuse may cross the line into sexual abuse charges like corruption of minors or unlawful contact with a minor. The latter two are both listed as Megan's Law offenses in Pennsylvania.

      Loretta Lynch obviously hasn't been paying attention to Louis Freeh's latest escapades.

  4. Why didn't Sandusky's defense call the "victim 2" Sandusky identified to testify if only to raise reasonable doubt about McQueary's story?

    1. As the story goes, Joe Amendola was going to call "FakeVictim 2" as a witness until he ran into Andrew Shubin at the Centre County courthouse. Shubin told Amendola that FakeVictim 2 was now claiming he was abused and would be suing Sandusky.

      There were a lot of other missed opportunities for Joe Amendola to cast doubt on a lot of witnesses.....and he managed to miss most of them.

      Some very knowledgeable State College attorneys say Joe didn't play his best game at the trial. It looked to me like Joe was sandbagging it -- and using the lack of being granted continuances as his excuse.

      Some of the things he didn't question were just so obvious. Then at the end of the trial, he was gushing about Cleland?? Cleland was terrible.

    2. Ray, can you speculate here why Amendola would sandbag? Perhaps he believed JSandusky was guilty of child sexual abuse? Or something more sinister?

      Wasn't he risking an appeal by JSandusky on claims of inadequate defense?

    3. Becky,
      Looking at the list of possible witnesses for Jerry, the people who took the stand in his defense, and Amendola's performance at the trial, it appeared that he too was protecting The Second Mile.

      I won't go into all the details here, but the most obvious "missed opportunity" by Joe to defend Jerry's showering with kids was when Mark McCann testified. The prosecutors had McCann on the stand to state that the contracts Jerry had with kids and things like the "golf for life" program with Victim 4 were not sanctioned activities by TSM. However, Second Mile had a sanctioned "friend fitness" program that paired an adult and a child for workouts. Obviously, Joe could have asked McCann about that program and used that to explain why Jerry was working out and showering with kids. But that also would have opened up Second Mile for having a program that allowed 1 on 1 adult/child contact in situations were no other adults were present -- a big NO-NO for youth services organizations.

      Even with missing those opportunities, the bar is very high for a defendant to prove Ineffective Assistance of Counsel was the primary reason for a conviction.

  5. NY Daily News
    Voice of the People
    April 12

    Penn State justice

    Lower Gwynedd, Pa.: Thank you, Daily News, for “Ex-Penn St. honcho suing” (March 19). Penn State’s campus, community and alumni naively welcomed news that the Penn State Board of Trustees had tapped former FBI Director Louis Freeh to head an investigation to answer how coach Jerry Sandusky had duped us. Freeh unveiled his findings at a nationally televised press conference. Media outlets regurgitated his sensational conclusion that “to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at Penn State repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse.” But the body of the report contains no evidence to support Freeh’s conclusion. Key parties were never interviewed, and the roles played by Sandusky’s charity and Pennsylvania child welfare agencies were conspicuously ignored. Penn State trustees, along with Freeh, obfuscated the lessons that should have been learned from this despicable episode. Through Graham Spanier’s lawsuit, hopefully they will be held accountable in a court of law. Maribeth Roman Schmidt
    Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship
    Penn State Class of 1988

  6. Sabrina Erdely may have published 2 other highly suspect rape related articles in Rolling Stone ("The Rape of Petty Officer Blumer" and "The Catholic Church's Secret Sex Crimes Files"). the second one is notable since it involves the highly suspect and ever changing testimony of an alleged abuse victim ("Billy Doe"), a seemingly dishonest Grand Jury presentment, and the Philly DA's office - the case was prosecuted by Seth Williams, and Ederly's attorney husband worked in the Philly DA's office (though not on this case). One conviction in that case has been overturned, and another man died in prison pending appeal.

    The second case is fascinating in the regard that it almost ran concurrently with the Sandusky allegations in 2011, and exhibited many of the same traits in regards to how it was reported in the media and tried in court. In fact, I wonder why Ganim got the call from the bullpen instead of Ederly to cover Sandusky.

    I have since learned Ederly was a U Penn classmate of Stephen Glass. oh sweet irony . . .

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