Critics of Freeh Report Fire Blanks


Over the past several weeks, high-profile criticisms of the Freeh Report, which examined the Penn State administration’s failed response to a report of inappropriate sexual behavior by former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, generated more heat than light. Nearly identical missives from a handful of renegade PSU trustees, the family of ex-coach Joe Paterno, and a handful of former Penn State football players all slammed the Freeh Report as biased and filled with factual errors–but were unable to identify even one specific way in which the report was biased, or point out even one factual error that made the critics’ case.

In the last few days, however, two new attacks–one explicit, one implied–on the report have emerged. An authorized biography of Paterno by sportswriter Joe Posnaski bent over backwards to present the late coach in a favorable light and imply that the Freeh Report’s claim that Paterno knowingly participated in a cover-up couldn’t be true. And Penn State’s disgraced ex-president, Graham Spanier, kicked off a public relations campaign with two interviews and a press conference by his attorney. Ironically, through their weaknesses, these ostensibly more substantial critiques of the Freeh Report wound up further confirming the report’s conclusions.

Reviewers have excoriated Posnanski’s book. In the most comprehensive review, Allan Barra, analyzing the book for The Atlantic, noted that “time and again, Posnanski writes as if it was his intention to make clear issues cloudy.” The effect, whether intentional or not, was to obscure while never directly challenging the Freeh Report’s findings regarding Paterno: that despite his testimony to the grand jury, Paterno was informed about a 1998 allegation against Sandusky; and that despite several times claiming to the contrary, Paterno did discuss with senior administrators how Penn State should respond to graduate assistant Mike McQueary’s witnessing Sandusky engaged in something of a “sexual nature” (as Paterno told the grand jury) with a boy in the shower.

Even more problematically, Posnanski’s biography produced another instance of documents uncovered by the Freeh Report casting doubt on Paterno’s (self-serving) recollections regarding Sandusky. Paterno told Posnanski that he wasn’t directly involved in the negotiations over Sandusky’s 1999 retirement from Penn State (for which the assistant coach received a highly unusual $160,000 payment, plus emeritus status on the PSU faculty). Yet, as the sports blog Deadspin observed, Sandusky’s typewritten retirement requests were “marked up with Paterno’s handwritten responses, including a check mark next to Sandusky’s request for access to workout and training facilities,” plus Paterno’s  concerns about “liability problems” if Sandusky continued to bring kids from his Second Mile charity into the Penn State football building.

Spanier’s attack on the Freeh Report was far more direct but no more effective. The key piece of evidence regarding Spanier’s misconduct was a 2001 e-mail he sent to two senior administrators, following a discussion one of the administrators had with Paterno. (After that discussion, the Penn State leadership changed its mind and decided it wouldn’t report Sandusky to authorities.) “The only downside for us” with this approach, Spanier wrote, “is if the message isn’t ‘heard’ and acted upon, and we then become vulnerable for not having reported it. But that can be assessed down the road. The approach you outline is humane and a reasonable way to proceed.”

In a Philadelphia news conference, Spanier’s attorney provided lots of bluster but few specific answers, remarking that Spanier (who wasn’t present before the assembled media) could answer the difficult questions. The attorney also released a document: (1) suggesting that the Freeh Report implied that authorities had concluded Sandusky committed a sexual assault in 1998 (the report, in fact, had made no such claim); (2) chastising Freeh for not interviewing a friend of McQueary’s father, with whom McQueary also discussed seeing Sandusky in the shower, and instead relying on the grand jury testimony of both Paterno and McQueary (the only parties to the 2001 conversation between the two men) who both said that McQueary told Paterno  he had witnessed something of a “sexual nature”; and (3) asserting that Spanier knew only that Sandusky was accused in 2001 of “horseplay,” a term not used in the contemporaneous documents. Why Penn State or anyone else would be “vulnerable for not having reported” horseplay was, and remains, unclear; while Spanier’s attorney suggested that there was needed context to the 2001 e-mail, perhaps from unidentified e-mails that have been lost, he didn’t indicate what an innocent context of Spanier’s remarks could be.

In any case, in a less-than-hardball interview with the New Yorker‘s Jeffrey Toobin, Spanier wasn’t even asked why he thought the university might be “vulnerable” for not reporting Sandusky to authorities. (Spanier did find time in the interview to suggest that the story of Paterno rebuffing his attempts in 2004 to induce the coach into retiring–most recently offered, ironically, in Posnaski’s biography, which used Paterno as his main source–was untrue.) The ex-president’s ABC interview, meanwhile, focused on Spanier’s claim that since his father (physically) abused him, the Freeh Report’s conclusions about his signing off on the decision not to report a potential child abuser couldn’t be true.

Spanier’s New Yorker interview did offer one particularly absurd recollection. After he received a subpoena to testify before the grand jury investigating Sandusky, Spanier claimed that he told Penn State’s general counsel, “You know, I don’t remember a lot, but if I could ever be helpful to the law-enforcement folks, I’d be happy to do that.” He further asserted that he had no idea of exactly what the grand jury wanted to hear from him, and–indicative either of someone with a stunningly incurious nature in 2011 or someone who’s shading the truth now–said that he didn’t ask Penn State’s general counsel (who had been monitoring the inquiry) why he might have been subpoenaed. (“I was very much in the dark about it,” Spanier told Toobin.)

What we’re left with, then, is the argument that instead of following Freeh’s evidence, observers should instead accept the word of a former coach who claimed to have no role in an assistant’s retirement package, even though contemporaneous documents disproved the claim; and a former university president who after, according to his own story, considering his university potentially “vulnerable” for not reporting an employee’s “horseplay,” then said that he went happily off to testify before a grand jury investigating that same employee without bothering to determine why the grand jury might want to talk to him.

Perhaps there actually is evidence that the Freeh Report got the story wrong. But such evidence didn’t come from the Posnanski book or the Spanier media barrage.

(Photo: Graham Spanier, former President of Penn State. By


  • KC Johnson

    KC Johnson is a history professor at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is the author, along with Stuart Taylor, of The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America's Universities.

5 thoughts on “Critics of Freeh Report Fire Blanks

  1. Let me rephrase the first comment for better content and comprehension:
    “If JACK RAYKOVITZ were INDICTED, he’d be facing the prospect of spending the rest of his life in jail. 2MILE CEO/LICENSED CHILD PSYCHOLOGIST/MANDATED REPORTER who assisted child molesters to hide their crimes and ensure their continued access to more children (FROM THE 2MILE- A STATE LICENSED AND AUDITED CHARITY) to molest are what legal types like to call accomplices.”
    “If OFFICIALS of CYS/PaDPW were INDICTED, they’d be facing the prospect of spending the rest of their lives in jail. STATE LICENSED OFFICIALS who assisted child molesters to hide their crimes and their continued access to more children by APPROVING A PEDOPHILE AS AN FOSTER & ADOPTIVE PARENT are what legal types call accomplices.”
    And this:
    “If TORCHETTA & PROBST were INDICTED, they’d be facing the prospect of spending their entire lives in jail. PUBLIC SCHOOL OFFICIALS who assisted a child molester to hide their crimes and ensure their continued access to more children while roaming the school hallways are what legal types call accomplices.”
    And this
    “If TOM CORBETT were indicted, he’d be facing the prospect of spending his entire life in jail. A PA ATTY GENERAL who assisted a child molester to hide his crimes and ensure his continued access to more children by not placing the Sandusky file with his acclaimed Child Predator Unit, by subpoenaing Twitter & attending 2Mile Chair Bob Poole’s $$ political fundraiser in 2010 INSTEAD OF subpoenaing 2Mile & Sandusky, by not leaning on FBI resources to investigate a suspected serial pedophile from a State Licensed Charity, are what legal types call accomplishes.”
    I can add more to this list. Our Commonwealth failed these kids, but that would be extremely embarrassing & expensive for Tom Corbett, so we’ll just point fingers in one direction and call it a day.

  2. There have been numerous articles written about the factual inaccuracies of the Freeh Report. My most recent post demonstrates that Louis Freeh did not make reference to the Pennsylvania Protective Services Statutes that ensure child abuse investigations be kept confidential. In other words, Paterno, Spanier, and Curley were not informed of the nature of the 1998 investigation — contradicting Freeh’s assertion that they knew of a child sexual abuse allegation against Sandusky and failed to inform the Board of Trustees (the latter also would have broken the law). I also have written extensively on how Freeh’s statements that these men were kept informed of this investigation is factually incorrect.
    More is coming. The Freeh Report’s days are numbered. It will all fall apart before the first days of 2013.

  3. Not so fast, KC Johnson.
    The “facts” and “evidence” against Joe Paterno are… what,exactly?
    For the most part, the “findings” of Louis Freeh are speculations built on opinions and hearsay.

  4. The Freeh report is a ridiculous and a criminal
    attempt to slander and defame both Joe Paterno
    and Graham Spanier. They would never had faced
    charges based on the “evidence” which amounts
    to gossip and emails taken out of context.

  5. If Paterno were still alive he’d be facing the prospect of spending the rest of his life in jail. People who assist child molesters to hide their crimes and to ensure their continued access to more children to molest are what legal types like to call accomplices.
    The NCAA should have shut their entire football program down.

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