Penn State Moves Forward on Two Fronts

Two of the parties involved in the ongoing Penn State child abuse scandal have decided to try and salvage their reputations—with very different goals, methods and results.

On the one hand, disgraced former president Graham Spanier has gone on a “PR offensive,” booking TV appearances and other interviews in an attempt to portray himself as a competent manager who was somehow oblivious to the abuse that just happened to be going on right under his nose. He even claimed that he himself endured physical abuse at the hands of his father–and while that makes for a true horror story, we fail to see how it would make him any less culpable in this case.

Newsday speculates that he may be taking this route because the investigation technically remains open–he wants to avoid prosecution while preserving his ability to continue a career in academics. But we can’t see Spanier achieving his goal of discrediting the findings of the FBI, especially when he wrote emails that appear to agree with former athletic director Tim Curley’s decision to avoid contacting child-welfare authorities in response to allegations made against Jerry Sandusky in 2001. Spanier looks more than a little desperate, and we have some advice for whoever happens to represent him: Leave that sinking ship.

On the home front, the school’s board of trustees announced on Sunday that they had “charted a proactive strategy to rebuild faith in the campus.” Sounds extremely challenging, even though they have the nation’s biggest PR firm on their side after hiring Edelman to represent them earlier this year.

Edelman’s chief Richard Edelman stated that the time has come for Penn State to “pivot” away from defensive postures and present a more positive face to the public. Despite reports of a divide among board members (some resigned to extended bad press, some more interested in “fighting back” against negative perceptions), the group seems to have agreed on Edelman’s plans moving forward: feature alumni and staff in a PR campaign to highlight Penn State’s many accomplishments while avoiding any form of direct advertising that would only attract more criticism.

Edelman clearly has the right idea, but what do you think? Can Spanier possibly succeed in his quest to clear his name? Can Penn State revive its reputation?