If the name John Ziegler doesn't register with you, enlighten yourself by reading the late David Foster Wallace's lengthy 2005 profile of him in The Atlantic. Ziegler, a former talk-radio host who's now a documentary filmmaker, has been making the media rounds the last couple of days because he recently interviewed Jerry Sandusky in prison. Ziegler does not believe Sandusky is innocent, but he does believe the convicted pedophile has some insight to offer that will absolve Joe Paterno and other Penn State officials of having allegedly covered for him. These media appearances have not gone well.
Let's first get this out of the way: Ziegler's two previous films alleged that the Clinton administration was responsible for 9/11 and that Barack Obama got elected in 2008 because the media were really mean to Sarah Palin. That ought to give you an idea of the sort of mind we're dealing with here, as should the fact that he and Palin are no longer on speaking terms. Ziegler and I have had a number of exchanges about the Penn State case since last summer, some cordial, some not, all of them conducted on his end with a paranoid and martyred air of lonely genius.
He isn't an easy person to get along with, even if you see things by his weird lights. The Paterno family no longer supports whatever the fuck he's now doing. This is a statement the family recently released through its lawyer about Ziegler's release of audio clips from his Sandusky interview:
“The release of the audio recording of Jerry Sandusky is a sad and unfortunate development. Sandusky had the opportunity to speak, under oath, during his trial and he chose not to do so. Releasing a recording at this time, nearly a year after he was found guilty on 45 counts, is transparently self-serving and yet another insult to the victims and anyone who cares about the truth in this tragic story.
The Paterno family would prefer to remain silent on this matter, but they feel it is important to make it clear that they had no role in obtaining or releasing this recording. Moreover, they believe that any attempt to use this recording as a defense of Joe Paterno is misguided and inappropriate. I encourage anyone who wants to understand the facts of this case to go to Paterno.com and read the reports of former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, former FBI profiler, James Clemente, noted pedophilia expert, Dr. Fred Berlin and the King & Spalding legal team.
“From the beginning, the family has been committed to due process and a careful, objective examination of the facts. This is the path they will continue to follow.”
Paterno's son, Scott, also chimed in on Twitter: "I repeat, if John had a credible way to exonerate Dad, why would we oppose it? Think about that."
Yeah. You probably ought to re-think your strategy when the family of the dead man whose name you're using to promote your film thinks you're insulting the victims of a convicted child molester. On his website over the weekend, Ziegler launched a pre-emptive strike that dared the media to take him on. Sample quote:
I know that your first inclination will be to try and ignore me (I'm talking to you ESPN) as most of you have done since we here at www.FramingPaterno.com started correcting your many mistakes on the coverage of the Sandusky scandal. Many of you will continue, since you have no interest in finding out the real truth of this matter and might even be smart enough to realize you are in the process of being humiliated, to take that route now.
How persuasive. Ziegler went through with a scheduled appearance yesterday on The Today Show, and at one point host Matt Lauer had to interrupt him to inform viewers that Ziegler would not be outing one of Sandusky's victims on the air, as he still may do on his website at some point today. After Lauer read a portion of the Paterno family's statement, Ziegler said the statement was "sad, heartbreaking for me, considering I've put a year of my life into this with no compensation, no thought of compensation." Because this is all about Joe Paterno and not John Ziegler, see. Ziegler will also tell you this is not a commercial endeavor and that he hasn't made any money from it. Just be aware that you can contribute to his film project here.
Ziegler followed that up with a rambling appearance yesterday on TMZ Live in which he basically shouted a lot. One takeaway: Ziegler has discovered that the the boy in the infamous Penn State shower episode was 14 at the time and not 10, as was assumed by a witness. He harped on that as though it makes any fucking difference. "The entire narrative was, 'Oh my gosh, this innocent 10-year-old boy,'" Ziegler said at one point before being cut off. "I'm not saying it's less bad," he continued, screaming, "I'm saying that obviously a 10-year-old would have no chance of fighting back." Oh, OK.
Last night, Ziegler allowed himself to get trolled by Piers Morgan on CNN, which you can see above. Ziegler began raising his voice almost from the start. It got no better from there, in part because Morgan has little grasp of the facts surrounding Paterno's firing. But Ziegler walked right into his trap anyway. Sara Ganim made an appearance toward the end, only to have Ziegler repeatedly attempt to shout over her. When Ziegler finally attempted to question whether Ganim deserved to win last year's Pulitzer Prize, Morgan cut him short and said, "I would take the Paterno family's advice, and just disappear."
Ziegler finally went on WEEI in Boston's Dennis and Callahan show this morning and had this to say: "I'm gonna fail. I realize that. I mean, it's very clear after the last couple of days the way the media has reacted to this, I'm gonna fail. I get it. I understand. I gave it my best shot." Yes, because it's the media that just aren't getting it.