Like little stars.
NBC has given more airtime to John Ziegler, the conservative filmmaker behind “Media Malpractice: How Obama Got Elected,” “Palin Was Targeted” and “Blocking the Path to 9/11,” to sound off on his latest conspiracy theory: that the victims of convicted serial child rapist and former assistant Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky were manipulated into believing he is a pedophile, and that late Penn State football coach Joe Paterno has wrongly implicated in the process. Ziegler, introduced simply as a “documentary filmmaker,” appeared on the “Today” show alongside Sandusky’s wife, Dottie, who opened up on her husband’s verdict for the first time.
In 2011, Sandusky was charged with 45 counts of raping and molesting boys over the course of more than a decade. While the media’s attempt to understand how Dottie, a victim in her own right, copes with the charges brought against her husband (predictably, not well), Ziegler’s inclusion in the interview is misleading and even dangerous, lending a false sense of credibility to Dottie’s insistence that the victims didn’t lie, per se, but that their stories are not at all plausible.
“I believe that what happened here was manipulation,” Ziegler told host Matt Lauer. “That people changed their perceptions based upon suggestions.” He then compared Sandusky to the Loch Ness monster, saying, “No one ever thought there was a Loch Ness monster until people started thinking there was a Loch Ness monster, that the myth that was created was a Loch Ness monster. Before that, the shadows were the shadows …”
“After you are told that Jerry Sandusky is a pedophile by people you respect — investigators, prosecutors, police — and you change your perception, all of a sudden, everything in your perception of Sandusky changes,” he said without a trace of irony.
This is not the first time that NBC has given Ziegler a platform for his victim-blaming denial of rape. In March of 2013, NBC offered viewers a look at an exclusive jailhouse interview with Sandusky via Ziegler’s project, “The Framing of Joe Paterno,” devoted to “compiling and analyzing the evidence that an out-of-control news media created a false narrative in the Jerry Sandusky scandal, which effectively framed Joe Paterno for crimes he obviously didn’t commit and of which he may have had extremely limited knowledge.”
At the time, Ziegler tried to have it both ways, telling Lauer that while he has “no doubt that Jerry Sandusky was guilty of many of the things, if not all the things, that he was accused of,” there were “due process problems with the trial.” Ziegler did not say whether the things he believed Sandusky was “guilty of” qualified as sexual abuse, however, and deflected most questions related to Sandusky. “Jerry Sandusky had his day in court,” said Ziegler. “Joe Paterno never did. I’m trying to get Joe Paterno his day.”
The legendary Penn State football coach, who died in 2012, was fired during the trial for his failure to follow up with authorities regarding the suspicions brought to him against Sandusky. In July 2012, an independent investigation found that Paterno and several members of the coaching staff actively concealed Sandusky’s activities from university staff and the authorities.
Ziegler, by the way, is also a noted defender of the football staff involved in the Steubenville rape case. “I am at least as certain that [Steubenville High School football coach] Reno Saccoccia was not culpable in the crimes of his players as I am in Joe Paterno’s lack of blame for those of his former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky,” Ziegler wrote in an “Open Letter to the News Media” before his 2013 “Today” show appearance.
Victims’ advocates protested NBC’s decision to air the 2013 interview, writing in a statement that, “Ziegler is seeking to profit by capitalizing on the controversy of the Sandusky scandal by producing and distributing a film,” and that “by airing these interviews … NBC has chosen to give national exposure for a second time to a child rapist whose indisputable guilt on over 40 counts of sexual abuse of children was agreed upon by a jury of his peers.”
Of Ziegler’s most recent appearance, New York magazine’s Joe Coscarelli writes, “Although neither [Dottie] Sandusky nor Ziegler provide any new evidence to undermine the court’s findings, NBC continues to offer them airtime to spread their delusions.”
The only “evidence” Ziegler has is his gut feeling based on his interviews, and though Matt Lauer does not seem to buy it, Ziegler’s unsubstantiated ramblings are the stuff that breeds rape culture. “I have tried for over a year to find a moment of consciousness of guilt on Jerry Sandusky’s part through two prison interviews and dozens of letters. It doesn’t exist,” Ziegler told Lauer.
Thankfully, in the court of law, one does not have to feel guilty to be found guilty of a crime. Or, in this case, 45 crimes.
Prachi Gupta is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on pop culture. Follow her on Twitter at @prachigu or email her at email@example.com.More Prachi Gupta.
Like little stars.
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