Whatever They Want To Say: How Media Outlets Handled Joe Paterno's Weird Quote Last Night

Late last night, Joe Paterno emerged from his ranch house on McKee Street in State College and spoke to a crowd of students and supporters who'd staked out on his front lawn for hours. He seemed very happy to see them all there and told them as much: "It's hard for me to tell you how much this means to me."

He continued, barely audible:

You guys have lived for this place. I've lived for people like you guys and girls. I'm just so happy to see that you feel so strongly about us and about our school. And as I said, I don't know if you heard me or not, is, you know, the kids who were victims or whatever they want to say, I think we all ought to say a prayer for them. It's a tough life when people do certain things to you. But anyway, you've been great. Everything's great, all right.

What the written transcript doesn't reveal is the very clear sense that the man who is speaking is not only lost and doddering; he's also got lawyers in his head clear down to his brain stem, all of them telling him not to say anything substantive. That's the most reasonable explanation for that awful "or whatever they want to say." The word "victims" came out of Paterno's mouth, and he immediately tried to back away—calling them "victims" means assuming Jerry Sandusky's guilt—which got him tangled in his own syntax.

Still, the words come out, clearly and on the record: He refers to the young boys whom Sandusky allegedly sexually abused as "the kids who were victims, or whatever they want to say." This is an 84-year-old trying to be both a crisis manager and a moral leader, and failing miserably at being either. That's one uncomfortable truth to have emerged out of Happy Valley in the past couple of days, and his brief speech made it plain to anyone paying attention. This is how media outlets dealt with the quote in question.

Daily Collegian:

"The kids who were victims, whatever they want to say, I think we need to say a prayer for them," Paterno said.

USA Today:

The kids that were victims or whatever they want to say, I think we all ought to say a prayer for them.

Washington Post:

And as I said, I don't know if you heard me or not, is, you know, the kids who were victims or whatever they want to say, I think we all ought to say a prayer for them.

CNN Wire:

Paterno told supporters outside his home Tuesday, "It's hard for me to tell you how much this means to me ... You know, with the kids that were victims, whatever they want to say, I think we ought to say a prayer for them ... tough life when people do certain things to you."

Fox Sports:

And as I said, I don't know if you heard me or not, is, you know, the kids who were victims or whatever they want to say, I think we all ought to say a prayer for them.

Chicago Tribune:

The kids who are victims ... I think we all ought to say a prayer for them.

AP:

"The kids that were the victims ... I think we all ought to say a prayer for them," Paterno said Tuesday night at his house.

ESPN:

Paterno asked the students to say a prayer for the alleged victims, adding that "it's a tough life when people do certain things to you."

And finally, via Breaking Tackles, the ESPN ticker:

The kids that were victims, I think we all ought to say a prayer for them.

Must have been a space constraint.