Trustee: Media frenzy forced board's hand
Barely 24 hours after the Penn State board of trustees pledged to launch "a full and complete investigation" into the child sex abuse scandal engulfing the university's fabled football team, the school's president and legendary coach were out.

Why did the trustees rush to judgment? Intense media attention and public outrage compelled them to take immediate action against coach Joe Paterno and President Graham Spanier, according to a trustee who spoke to The Morning Call.

The board feared any delay would only fuel the frenzy outside, said the trustee, who asked to remain anonymous.

"Every day it was going to get worse and worse," he said.

News of the scandal broke over the weekend. And if it was a big story from the get-go, it would soon become epic, drawing the attention of the national news media.

Paterno was leaving his home Tuesday to face more than 100 reporters at Beaver Stadium's media room when the administration abruptly canceled his appearance. Since then, reporters and camera crews have staked out his house, and the growing media presence culminated with students overturning a television van late Wednesday on College Avenue.

"Go home CNN!" students chanted into TV cameras surrounding them.

A column about the scandal in the New York Times hit the top of the most-emailed list of the newspaper's website. Not only did ESPN lead with the story all week, but so did the TV networks' nightly and morning news programs.

"It's a feeding frenzy," said Fran Fisher, a former Penn State assistant athletic director and broadcaster. "Of course a story of this nature, of this kind of sensationalism, seems almost appealing to some people because it's happening to Joe 'Clean' [Paterno]."

Penn State's sluggish initial response to the scandal and its subsequent about-face is hardly unusual, said Michael McPherson, a partner at Boston marketing firm Corey McPherson Nash. Those at the center of other scandals have responded the same way.

For example, Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain is having a hard time dodging accusations he had sexually harassed employees. And former Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner couldn't survive the revelation that he sent images of his genitals to women online.

"These are all people who are used to having huge amounts of power," McPherson said. "Then they are brought so low. The natural tendency is to be in denial."

But denial is rarely an effective strategy, he said. And the fact Penn State trustees are not as famous as the likes of Cain and Weiner means they are probably even more sensitive to the media spotlight.

"They are not used to seeing their names in the paper in connection with something so sordid," he said. "So that sort of changes your perspective."

At issue is the response of Penn State officials to reports of sexual misconduct by former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

According to grand jury testimony, in 2002 a graduate assistant saw a naked Sandusky forcing anal sex on a boy about 10 years old in the Penn State locker room shower. The distraught assistant, later identified as current assistant coach Mike McQueary, fled and reported the incident the next day to Paterno, who in turn reported it to athletic director Tim Curley.

The trustee who spoke to The Morning Call described Wednesday night's decisive two-hour board meeting as "somber." He said Gov. Tom Corbett, a trustee himself, participated in the discussion via conference call and fully concurred with the unanimous decision to force Paterno and Spanier out.

"The fact that someone saw something wrong and did not take the time to ask the right questions, that's the part it all goes back on," the trustee said.

And of Paterno in particular, he added, "Either he knew about it and brushed it under the rug, or he didn't ask enough questions."