Sunday, April 8

HBO's Paterno Is Part Fiction, Part Fantasy with Truth Occasionally Sprinkled In

HBO's docufiction about Joe Paterno was filled with errors and practically unwatchable for those who are cognizant of the facts of the case.  The movie mostly perpetuates the myth that Sara Ganim is an investigative reporter whose reporting was essential in bringing a child molester to justice.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Ray Blehar

April 8, 2018, 1:55 PM EDT, Updated at 3:54 PM EDT

HBO's Paterno comes across as a ridiculous work of fiction from the outset as it shows Sara Ganim cheering on the Penn State University (PSU) Nittany Lions as a sideline reporter and then several obviously fictional scenes from inside the stadium and locker room.  Even Patriot News VP of Content, Cate Barron, weighed in on Twitter, stating Patriot News - Penn Live reporters wouldn't wear a Penn State hat on the job.

As the scene played out, it became obvious that Ganim had no familiarity with Beaver Stadium and wasn't at the Saturday, October 30th PSU-Illinois game because the most dramatic, unforgettable scene that played out on that day is conspicuously absent.

As the Illini lined up for the final field goal attempt to tie the game, students who were dispersed in the lower bowl of the south end of the stadium stood up and converged in a mass behind the goal posts to distract the visitor's kicker (who missed).  That omission foretold that what we were about to see was more of Sara Ganim's overblown, self-serving narratives, not what actually unfolded in Happy Valley in 2001 and 2011.

Friday, November 4th

In scene two, Ganim's fiction (and ego) is fully on display, as she and other staffers of the Patriot News huddle around her computer as Sandusky's charges are "discovered" on the internet then vanish.  Missing from the scene is the phone call from local reporter Gary Sinderson, who found the charges and told Ganim about them.  Sinderson recalled that Ganim "shrieked" when he told her the news because she, like other reporters, were tipped that the charges would be posted on Monday.  Sinderson is not mentioned in the film.

November 5th, 6th, and 7th

As the scenes shift to University Park on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday more inaccuracies appear.

As a news truck rolls up in front of the Paterno home on Saturday, a radio announcer is stating that there was a moral obligation for PSU officials to report Sandusky.   The "moral obligation" quote was made by Frank Noonan, on the following Monday

Ganim appears on the door step of Kimberly Belcher (Georgia Buchanan) on Sunday,  however it is obvious that the actress in the scene is based on Joan Coble, who retired in 2007.   Of course, anyone familiar with the case could never confuse the appearances of Belcher and Coble, which speaks volumes about the film's consultant.  The scene is purely fantasy because it is related to the so-called secret file of Gary Schultz, which didn't become public knowledge until parts of it were leaked in June 2012 (on the eve of the Sandusky trial)

Meanwhile at the Paterno home, Joe is recounting events and states he called Tim Curley (Steve Coulter) and Gary Schultz about the 2001 shower incident.  There is no evidence that he ever contacted Gary directly by phone.

On Monday morning, Belcher (depicted as Coble) arrives at Schultz home and delivers the file on Sandusky.  Earlier in the movie, Gary requested that Belcher bring him a copy of his transition file as he was re-retiring from PSU.  As she goes into the drawer, she finds a file on Sandusky.  What the movie doesn't show is that Schultz's bottom drawer had numerous disciplinary files that he kept on employees and that Sandusky's file being there wasn't sinister.  The movie shows Gary immediately looking at the files, which also didn't happen.  He actually set them aside and viewed them later.

As the scene shifts back to the Paterno home, more inaccuracies surface regarding the 1998 investigation of Sandusky and the film perpetuates Ganim's blame game that former district attorney Ray Gricar was solely responsible for Sandusky's continued access to children.  The reality was that child protective services could have stopped Sandusky from accessing children in 1998 and needed no assistance from PSU, law enforcement nor Gricar to do so.

Tuesday, November 8th

The events surrounding the cancellation of Paterno's weekly press conference was among the few accurate moments in the film, as it shows the legendary coach prepping for the meeting and then being upset when he learns it was cancelled. Ganim is also shown getting wardrobe and make up tips from a colleague, who eventually advises her to cover herself up with a winter coat.

In a following scene, the movie perpetuates the blame shifting narrative that PSU officials were derelict for not determining the identity of the shower victim and were callous for not caring about the welfare of the child.  This is fallacy on top of fallacy, because eye-witness McQueary did not describe a rape or a child being harmed by Sandusky and testified he couldn't identify the child. Years later, the police and Attorney General investigators with the power of subpoenas and search warrants failed to identify the victim during a three-year investigation. 

A flashback to a March 2001 conversation between Curley and Schultz is also inexcusably inaccurate.  First, conversations about the plan of action occurred in February 2001, not March.  Curley informs Schultz that he is changing the plan to go to the authorities without consulting Sandusky because it would be "inhumane" to do so.  Next, according the evidence from February 27 and 28, 2001, it was Spanier who first stated that Curley's plan to talk to Sandusky and go the extra mile to meet with The Second Mile was "humane" and then "humane" was repeated by Schultz.  There is no evidence Curley used the word "inhumane."

Tuesday's events close as Ganim arrives back at her apartment and while one male student harangues her over her denigration of Paterno, a female student stridently states that people know when a pedophile is in their midst.   Of course, the latter statement is provably false given what is known about Pillar of the Community offenders but her sentiments were reflected by the majority of the media reports about the Sandusky case (and in later coverage of the Larry Nassar case).

Wednesday, November 9th

The scene shifts to Harrisburg with Ganim and David Newhouse (Peter Jacobson) in front of a whiteboard mapping out the crimes.   As they discuss the case, an individual reminds Newhouse of an impending phone call from PSU's newly hired legal representative Lanny Davis.   Davis wasn't hired by PSU until December 9th

As the scene progresses, Ganim attempts to shift the blame for the use of the words "anal rape" in her columns on to Newhouse.   This is in stark contrast to her interview with Poynter in 2012, when she stated that she used "anal rape" because it took less copy than writing "involuntary deviant (sic) sexual intercourse" over and over.  Ganim also told Poynter that the term "anal rape" was used based on recommendations from local prosecutors who said it would help them win convictions in rape cases.

In an earlier scene, Ganim lamented that no one paid much attention to her March 31, 2011 scoop on the Sandusky grand jury investigation.  That's probably one of the most accurate scenes in the movie.  Only six reader comments were made on her column at that time and it had almost no impact on the Sandusky investigation.

In light of those facts,  Newhouse's statement to Ganim that the case wouldn't exist except for that "a bunch of victims came forward" after her story ran is patently false, self-serving, and pathetic.

In 2014, the Moulton Report confirmed that the identities of Victims 1, 4, 5, 6, and 7 were known to police before Ganim's story ran. The grand jury was in recess from February to April 2011 and that explains the reason why Victims 4, 5, 6, and 7 didn't testify until after her story ran.  Only Victim 3 was found after Ganim's report -- and that happened in July 2011 as part of a canvassing of the region for former members of The Second Mile.  To be clear, Victim 3 didn't come forward by reading Ganim's report nor did anyone else.  As it turned out, investigators used police reports from 1998 to identify the majority of the victims.

Yet another fantasy then appears as a flashback to 2004 and a meeting between Paterno, Spanier (Tom Kemp) and others in which his coaching future is discussed.  The scene shows Spanier informing Paterno that 2005 would be his last year.  However, the opposite occurred.  Paterno actually told Spanier that if he couldn't turn it around in 2005, he'd retire.  Moreover, there were a series of meeting in 2004 about Paterno's future, not just one.

Sadly, Ganim could have provided Levinson with an accurate account of the meetings by handing him a November 23, 2011 column from the Patriot News.

Scenes related to the firing of Paterno are mostly accurate, with Fran Ganter delivering the fateful note to the legendary coach that instructs him to call John Surma, the press conference and the ensuing riots.

Another flashback to March 2001 then gives a big dose of fiction about Paterno's knowledge of 1998.  In the scene, Curley tells Schultz that he gave constant updates to Paterno about the investigation and that he has numerous emails showing it.  The scene is seemingly based on demonstrably false statements given by Louis Freeh at his July 2012 press conference.

Transcripts from the Spanier trial show that Curley testified to informing Paterno at the outset of the 1998 investigation and circling back at the end.

He clarified that he did not ask for updates at Paterno's behest nor did he testify to giving updates to the former coach.

It's also widely known and understood that Paterno didn't use email and wasn't on the email chains, as Curley testified to below.

 The transcripts also show the Curley was not told (by Schultz) that Sandusky and the child were naked.

With all this information on the public record and there's no excuse for getting it wrong.  This demonstrates that Ganim and Levinson either didn't know or didn't care about the facts.

Thursday, November 10th

The scenes at the beginning are underscored by a sound track of media reports who are repeating the (false) allegations of McQueary witnessing Sandusky raping a boy and then reporting the details to Paterno.  Calls for the death penalty and condemnation of Paterno for enabling a pedophile are frequent.

At the Paterno home, the family asks Joe if 2001 was the first time he heard of anything like that.  Consistent with his grand jury testimony (and corroborated evidence), he responds that he wasn't aware of prior sexual allegations against Sandusky   Paterno then restates that he called Tim and Gary about 2001.  Again, Paterno never phoned Schultz.

A big dose of fantasy follows to prepare viewers for the final scenes of the movie.

As the dejected coach sits in his den watching a tape of the Alamo Bowl (Sandusky's last game as a coach).  In this fabricated scene (based on Sue Paterno's (Kathy Baker) interview with Katie Couric, Sue enters the room and discusses Sandusky being in the pool with their kids during the 1970s.  As she does, Paterno gets a look of horror on his face and then a dreamlike sequence follows in which he falls into a swimming pool filled with children.

   Saturday, November 10th

As Joe and Sue drive past the Lasch Building, the scene switches to the Patriot News and a ringing telephone.

A competent reporter would have realized the 1976 allegation was untrue.  Ganim didn't. 
Ganim answers the call and an accuser from 1976 tells her that he was abused by Sandusky and that he told Paterno about it in a hallway of an office building.  The caller states that Paterno ignored him because Sandusky was a good man.   The fact of the matter was that Sandusky didn't establish The Second Mile charity until 1977 and had no record of good works that Paterno was aware of at the time.  Also, Paterno's office was in Rec Hall, a sports venue that could never be mistaken for an office building. Any competent reporter would have immediately determined the accusation as not credible. 

The entire final scene is a sham because Ganim never received a call from that accuser.  She got a call from a 1971 accuser whose story was even more preposterous the one from 1976.  She went on to write a dubiously sourced CNN column about 1971 that was immediately torn to shreds and should have been retracted. As you might expect, CNN stuck with her fictional account.

The final scene summarizes the entire movie in a nutshell.

Sara Ganim, the movie's consultant, was either too incompetent, too lazy, too ego-filled or too all-knowing (or a combination of each) to do justice to the topic of Director Barry Levinson's film.   The lack of attention to detail and failure to fact check ensured the movie was filled with errors and practically unwatchable.


  1. Let's not forget regarding that final scene that Ganim didn't even break the story of the '76 accuser. Instead, she ran with the '71 story using Bernie McCue as a corroborating source.

  2. Thanks,Brian.

    I've updated the story to include that fact.

  3. I'm a big college football fan but I never researched much into the whole scandal. I assumed (as I watched the movie last night) that there would certainly be some 'creative liberties' taken at some points and that there was a good chance some of the movie wasn't accurate to the actual happenings. So, I'm not surprised to read your entry today.

    However, it seems as though the narrative here is that Paterno never knew anything other than the 2001 incident and then the one conversation with McQuery. That, from the outside, just seems very difficult to believe.

    I should be clear that I don't think Paterno knowingly lied or mislead anyone once the scandal broke, rather, I think after a career that spanned the time Paterno's did and given his age, it's not hard to think that Joe simply couldn't remember.

    In all fairness I've never been a big Paterno fan (because he took a shot a Barry Switzer while Switzer was still at OU....I'm an OU alum and fan), however, I never saw Paterno as a bad person and certainly not someone that would purposely hide or help cover-up the actions of Sandusky.

    I believe now exactly what I believed before I watched the movie; Joe was the head football coach at a big time program, with maintained success over his tenure. He wasn't a young man when this story broke and didn't have the memory of a young man. His focus throughout his time as head coach was to the football program and the kids that came through Happy Valley to play for him. I think he did what he felt was right when he learned of Sandusky's behavior from McQuery. I think the University really treated him badly at the end in an effort to save face.

    Sadly, Paterno will always be remembered in connection to this scandal, which is sad because the person that should always be at the top of the list when this is mentioned is the monster that will spend the rest of his days in prison.

    1. Sooner Keith,
      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

      If you didn't know, Joe stated publicly that he regretted his comments on Barry Switzer.

      The critique above shows that Joe was told of an incident involving Sandusky in 1998, but not provided the details. The person who told him, AD Tim Curley, was not told of the details either. The evidence exhibits in the Freeh Report show that Gary Schultz, the administrative head of the campus police, was doing EXACTLY as he should have done by NOT SHARING confidential police investigative information to those without a need to know (Paterno and Curley).

      Much of the misunderstandings in the Sandusky case come as a result of the media's lack of knowledge of how investigations work and who is responsible for doing what. As I wrote, the Patriot News accused the local DA for not stopping Sandusky in 1998 even though child protective services cleared Sandusky of any wrong-doing. It would have been difficult for the DA to prosecute Sandusky given that caseworkers would have testified they found no evidence of child abuse.

      This blog has documented JVP's memory problems and agree that at his advanced age he couldn't have been expected to recall the details of a 3 minute meeting held ten years prior. That said, the media is relentless in taking it as fact that his testimony that McQueary told him "fondling" or "a sexual nature" is factual when, in fact, it is refuted by McQueary's testimony.

      At this point in time it appears he will be forever linked to the scandal, but work continues to show that the media is just as wrong about Paterno as it was about the Duke lacrosse team.

    2. I think the fact that there was a huge Barenaked Ladies concert on campus the night of the 2001 shower incident just blows apart Mike McQueary's testimony. McQueary testified that the campus was deserted the night of the shower incident.

      That means that the shower incident was not the night before McQueary spoke to Paterno on March 10. Thus, there was no urgency in reporting the shower incident to Paterno as McQueary maintained.

      The more plausible reason why McQueary wanted to meet privately with Paterno on Saturday, March 10 was that the wide receiver's coaching position suddenly became vacant on March 8. It appears McQueary used the old shower incident as an excuse to get a private meeting with Paterno. Paterno saw through the ruse because the first thing he told McQueary was that he had no job for McQueary.

      It's too bad "ace reporter" Ganim was too stupid or lazy to check on the campus events that week and report on how they contradicted McQueary's testimony.

    3. Tim,
      Not only did Ganim not do any investigation about the happenings on campus in 2001, neither did the AG or Louis Freeh.

      As it turns out, that information was found by everyday folks who took an interest in the case and dug through the Collegian archives and other information.

      In closing, anyone who puts their faith in Sara Ganim and Louis Freeh's "investigation" skills have been fooled by the hype. They're nothing more than a couple of hacks.

    4. We all know the scene below happened exactly as portrayed, right?
      At the 1 hr. 22 minute mark,
      Phone conversation between:
      Curley, in a calm, self-assured, almost sinister tone
      Schultz, clearly frazzled

      S. But we're definitely telling Second Mile, right?
      C. Yeah.
      S. And the, and the Child Welfare thing - we're just playing it by ear, and Graham's okay with that?
      C. Graham says the only downside is if Jerry doesn't get it and this happens again, then we're vulnerable for not having reported it, but we can deal with that down the road. Joe's fine with that.
      S. Paterno?
      C. Yeah.
      S. But he doesn't know about the last time - the thing from '98.
      C. Yeah, of course he knows. I sat down with him when it happened. He was all over me about it.
      S. You sat down with him when it happened?
      C. He wanted constant updates. Ever keep Paterno waiting on anything? He's like a woodpecker.
      S. Tim, if Joe knows this is the second incident, and you're sure...
      C. I, I've got emails up one side and down the other. Yes.
      S. Uh, I don't know.
      C. Gary, if we need to report it, we'll report it. But we start with sitting down and talking to Jerry like a person. Joe's fine with that. Okay?
      S. Yeah... yeah, fine.
      C. Sit tight, and this is going to get taken care of.
      S. (Gulps down his drink)

    5. Jeff in CA,
      Thanks for reading and for the transcription from the movie.

      And your comment below.

  4. In reply to my previous comment: NOT. Ray wrote above, "Another flashback to March 2001 then gives a big dose of fiction about Paterno's knowledge of 1998. In the scene, Curley tells Schultz that he gave constant updates to Paterno about the investigation and that he has numerous emails showing it. The scene is seemingly based on demonstrably false statements given by Louis Freeh at his July 2012 press conference.

    "Transcripts from the Spanier trial show that Curley testified to informing Paterno at the outset of the 1998 investigation and circling back at the end.

    "He clarified that he did not ask for updates at Paterno's behest nor did he testify to giving updates to the former coach.

    "It's also widely known and understood that Paterno didn't use email and wasn't on the email chains, as Curley testified to below.

    "The transcripts also show the Curley was not told (by Schultz) that Sandusky and the child were naked.

    "With all this information on the public record and there's no excuse for getting it wrong. This demonstrates that Ganim and Levinson either didn't know or didn't care about the facts."