Jerry Sandusky Scandal

Media coverage of Sandusky scandal: Many hope frenzy fizzles

STATE COLLEGE — Call it media fatigue. Wendi Keeler has it. She’s tired of the reporters and broadcasters who have flooded the town since former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky’s arrest on child abuse charges two weeks ago triggered a frenzy of national scrutiny.

“Every time I go up College Avenue, I want the media trucks to be gone,” she said. “Let us deal with this.”

It has been a trying time for Keeler, a local American Red Cross donor recruitment representative, and other residents coping with the disruptions from the media storm and irate about how the town is being portrayed.

Cable networks, stations statewide and newspapers large and small have camped out in town, all scrambling to report the latest news in an ongoing scandal

that has sparked investigations, incited a student riot and cost Penn State President Graham Spanier and football coach Joe Paterno their jobs.

The typhoon has died down some, but TV crews still roam around, their equipment sitting on Old Main’s lawn near the satellite dish-topped trucks parked in a line.

As talk of Paterno’s firing and the scandal consumed students and local residents, one of Keeler’s blood drives might have suffered.

Penn State fell short of its goal of 2,000 donated units in the annual Penn State- Michigan State Blood Donor Challenge, which concluded with Penn State’s final home football game. Michigan State won, 1996 units to 1890 units, for only the sixth time in 18 years, breaking a string of five straight Penn State victories.

Although she said local donor numbers also were down during summer drives and earlier this fall, Keeler couldn’t help but notice that participation was light at some drives in campus residence halls. People “were definitely preoccupied,” riveted to TVs and the blaring nonstop news about Penn State, she said.

“We stalled,” Keeler said. “Was it a coincidence or not? I can’t say.”

At the State College Municipal Building, Borough Manager Tom Fountaine hasn’t stood still much. Problems arising from the media presence have kept him hopping.

“As my wife told me, she thought my phone was going to explode,” he said.

Some of Paterno’s neighbors in the College Heights section have complained about constant generator noise and floodlight glare from the media vans descending on McKee Street, Fountaine said. Others have groused about the increased traffic.

Fountaine also has had to deal with media trucks clogging up bus zones downtown, blocking fire hydrants or occupying no-parking spots. The borough solved the issue by reserving several East College Avenue parking spots for the trucks.

On McKee Street, borough police began parking cars in nearby Sunset Park to relieve the congestion, Fountaine said. Without a “game plan” for dealing with the massive crush, he said, the town mostly has had to improvise on the spot.

“We haven’t experienced an event like this in this community before,” he said.

The past two weeks, borough officials and police have tried to balance meeting the needs of out-of-town journalists with protecting the interests of local residents, he said.

“At times, it’s been an impossible conflict,” he said.

Theresa Kenny lives a few houses away from the Paterno home. She and her four young children have contended with the media hordes and rallying students that turned her quiet street into a carnival for days.

To come and go, they’ve driven over TV cables and dodged crowds.

At the height of the uproar, police officers blocked their street, and they had to stop at a police checkpoint before returning home — an annoyance when leaving for errands or practices.

“We’d forget the swim bag and have to come back, then forget something else and come back,” she said. “It was quite cumbersome.”

The bystanders, such as the man who sat all day across from the Paterno house, made her nervous about her children walking to the bus, she said.

Media requests for court documents made work more hectic than usual at the Centre County Prothonotary’s office. An unnamed clerk said, “Oh yes,” when asked whether the staff had been busy the past two weeks. But she referred other questions to Debra Immel, the prothonotary, who didn’t return a call for comment.

Besides feeling besieged, Keeler and others say they’re angry that the national media has presented a shallow picture of the community, implying that people are only upset about Paterno and the impact on the Penn State football program.

Tammy Gentzel, the executive director of the Centre County United Way, grew up in State College. She said people have told her they feel the media “is just out for blood” and not interested in the real reason for the town’s shock.

“That has nothing to do with football,” she said. “It has to do with our care and love for the community, and that our trust seems to have been violated.”

For the Kenny children, at least, the excitement wore off soon. At first, they bragged to their classmates about being in the center of the news.

“They were superstars,” their mother said. “After a while, it wasn’t as amazing.”

Chris Rosenblum can be reached at 231-4620.

Related stories from Centre Daily Times