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NBC’s Today Show on Monday hosted controversial conservative filmmaker John Zielger, who brought with him evidence that he says exonerates former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, including an interview with convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky.
Paterno was fired in November, 2011 for allegedly helping to cover up years of sexual abuse that Sandusky, his former long-time assistant, carried out on young boys who attended his football camp. Ziegler has focused for the past year on proving that Paterno was wrongly terminated, the result of a bloodthirsty media vendetta and a scared Penn State leadership.
“I know the media really well,” Ziegler, a former radio host, told Matt Lauer. “I’ve devoted most of my career to analyzing the media, and I personally believe the media in this particular case has an agenda they don’t want to hear what the truth is. This has been a rush to judgment from the beginning and I know I’m going to get attacked from everybody.”
STORY: How the Media Covered the Jerry Sandusky Trial
Ziegler spent much of his interview — and much of the space on his website FramingPaterno.com — focused on the testimony of Victim #2, one of many now-grown men to accuse Sandusky of molestation. Zielger zeroed in on the testimony of former Penn State assistant Mike McQueary, who alleged he heard sexual abuse of Victim #2 going on in the locker room shower. The filmmaker says Victim #2 refuted the evidence, and that McQueary was pressured into giving that testimony. The case is detailed further on Ziegler’s website.
In his interview with Sandusky, which took place in the prison in which he is serving 30 to 60 years, the former coach denied molesting Victim #2.
“(The boy) always, no matter what he did, he would always get the last lick in,’’ Sandusky said in the aired excerpt, referring to the activities in the shower that McQueary alleged were improper. “He would get the last smack. And then I would kind of chase him, and I ran into a wall. But then I was like pulling him back to go back into the area of shower where we were showering, and then that was it. I never saw Mike McQueary. I don’t know whether the young man saw him.”
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Lauer, who spent most of the segment in verbal combat with an increasingly bombastic Ziegler, asked if he believed Sandusky was guilty; after the filmmaker ducked the question several times, Lauer finally cornered him.
“I have no doubt that Jerry Sandusky was guilty of many of the things, if not all of the things he’s been accused of,” Ziegler said, adding that he believed that there were problems with the legal process.
Ziegler’s documentary has already been rejected by the Paterno family, which issued a statement and tweets that questioned his credibility. An op-ed in the Penn State student newspaper, The Daily Collegian, decried the segment, writing in part, “Where does Today go from here? Maybe an apology, maybe an informative piece on child abuse or more. At this point, the damage has been done. To other media outlets — let Sandusky work on his appeal and rot in prison.”
CNN’s Sara Ganim, a Pulitzer-winning Penn State alum who broke the initial story, wrote, “It’s very telling that Ziegler is teaming up with
#sandusky. Having a convicted child molester on your side hurts credibility.”
ESPN writer Ryan McGee tweeted, “140 characters is not enough to express how less of a damn I care about what Jerry Sandusky has to say.”
Ziegler has a long, checkered history, and has spent much of his career obsessed with media conspiracies.
In recent years, he has produced two documentaries: Blocking The Path to 9/11, which alleged that ABC caved to pressure from supporter of Bill Clinton to not release on DVD a docu-drama about the years leading up to the terrorist attacks; and Media Malpractice: How Obama Got Elected, which claimed media bias helped elect President Barack Obama in 2008.
Before that, he spent years as a radio talk show host, drifting from station to station, including stops in Ohio, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and Los Angeles; he was dismissed several times for controversial statements, and has become a fierce critic of political correctness.
Zielger has maintained an intense interest in the O.J. Simpson trial and was the focus of a long Atlantic Monthly cover story by the late David Foster Wallace, which painted him as an increasingly unhinged libertarian gadfly.
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