Joe Paterno’s family pleads his case on ‘Katie’

The Freeh Report on Penn State, released last summer, was a devastating blow not just to the Penn State community but to the reputation of the recently-departed Joe Paterno as well. The report suggested that Paterno failed on multiple occasions to take action which could have helped stop the widespread sexual abuse perpetrated by Jerry Sandusky.

This past weekend, the Paterno family released its own report documenting alleged errors and problems with the Freeh Report. On Monday, they followed in the steps of Manti Te'o and Lance Armstrong, consenting to an interview with a daytime talk-show host, in this case Katie Couric.

• The program began with a montage of historical images and video depicting the sudden and swift fall from grace of both Sandusky and, soon afterward, Paterno himself. The knowledge of how the story would play out makes the images of Paterno in November 2011 all the more haunting.

• Sue Paterno spoke Monday for the first time publicly since the allegations first aired. She was visibly shaken by the introductory video. Couric took a soft-focus approach to Mrs. Paterno, which is appropriate given the circumstances.

[Related from Dan Wetzel: Paterno family report will change few minds about Sandusky case]

• Asked of her impressions of Jerry Sandusky, Sue Paterno said "no one had a clue" about Sandusky's abuse. "He didn't socialize, so we didn't know that much about him as a person ... He was always joking, and in some ways childlike."

• Couric played the infamous Costas interview, the "are you sexually attracted to young boys?" followed by the damning pause, and it never gets any less disturbing.

• A video segment showed Couric's visit to Paterno's home office. And it's wood paneled and looks preserved from 1965 ... which is exactly what you'd expect.

• The chronology of the interview is a bit skewed; Couric leaps right from recollections of Sandusky to the trustee firing Paterno by phone. (Sue Paterno says she redialed the number, said "After 61 1/2 years, he deserves better," and hung up.)

• Couric correctly notes that the Paterno family's report is, by its very nature, proceeding from a biased point of view. Where the Freeh Report sees malice or incompetence in Paterno's actions, the Paterno family report sees either benign mistakes or incorrect assumptions. The truth, as always, lies somewhere in between.

• When asked why didn't Paterno "do more to protect these young men," Sue Paterno evades, perhaps not consciously, the question: "That was Jerry being Jerry ... The people who saw Jerry every day had no clue. But Joe wouldn't confront him. He didn't work for Joe any more." She noted that the Paternos did blame themselves: "Why didn't we see something?"

• "If he knew in 2001 what he knew in 2011, he would have done more." Sue Paterno did a fine job of calling out Couric for parsing Paterno's "I wish I had done more" line, noting that the full line included "With the benefit of hindsight ... "

• Couric continued to hammer at the theme that Paterno could have done more, but Sue Paterno pointed out that child psychologists and adoption agencies signed off on Sandusky's fitness to be around children. "If the experts don't know, how can we know?"

• Paterno's children insist that clearing his name is not of paramount importance, and that he wasn't interested in such matters. That runs in contrast to previously published reports on Paterno which suggested he was very interested in preserving his name.

• After about 40 minutes of the hour-long show, Couric switched from Paterno to public service, bringing on a former FBI agent to discuss how to help keep your own children safe.

• The segment closed with an update on Penn State and the victims involved in the Sandusky scandal. Most troubling: observers admit they have no idea how many victims there are that have not yet come forward.

[More elements forthcoming as they air.]

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