For the better part of the last four years, right-wing talk show host and filmmaker John Ziegler has been on a mission. He believes that former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was framed for molesting dozens of boys, and is serving 30 to 60 years in prison because his accusers lied on the stand in his 2012 trial. Ziegler has believed all along that longtime Penn State coach Joe Paterno got a raw deal, but now claims that Sandusky got the shaft as well.
However, Ziegler has gone about trying to make his case in a despicable way–by stalking and harassing Sandusky’s victims. Ziegler has taken pictures of the victims, their relatives, and their friends, and posted them on social media and on the Web. Unfortunately, due to a loophole in Pennsylvania’s rape shield law, the victims would have to drop their anonymity to press charges–and they aren’t nearly emotionally healed enough to go through a trial without assurances that their anonymity will be protected.
Well, on Tuesday night, Ziegler tried to defend himself in a column on Mediaite. He claimed that he has only sought to contact three of the victims–Aaron Fisher (better known as Victim 1), Sandusky’s son, Matt, and “Victim 2.” He also adamantly denies stalking any victims.
“I have never remotely ‘stalked’ anyone, nor have I never ‘outed’ anyone whose name was not already made very public by their choice. I have also never come close to revealing anyone’s contact information — that allegation is simply bizarre.”
Apparently Ziegler thinks that by just shouting his critics down, they’ll go away. Well, he is sadly mistaken. After all, his own Twitter feed proves that he is blatantly lying.
Roxine Behrens, the president of Tree Climbers, a nonprofit that works to support victims of child sexual abuse, discovered no fewer than 10 tweets from Ziegler dating back to 2013 in which he either took pictures of Sandusky victims, their relatives or girlfriends, went to their houses, or trolled victims and relatives. Behrens, who is an old colleague of mine from Daily Kos, has spent most of the last five years helping these men heal. Along with Pennsylvania’s victim advocate, Jennifer Storm, she has had to bear much of the brunt of Ziegler’s rampage.
The earliest tweets came in the summer of 2013, when Ziegler outed the mother of Victim 6 on Twitter.
Later that year, he went as far as to publicly name Victim 6 and his mother, and also tried to slut-shame Victim 6’s sister.
As it turned out, this was part of a nearly year-long campaign of targeted harassment against Victim 6’s mom.
According to Behrens, the harassment got so severe that Victim 6’s mom was briefly forced to make her Twitter account private and delete her Facebook account. Looking at those tweets, it’s hard to blame her.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In the summer of 2014, Ziegler shared a picture of Victim 6’s mother and sister at Penn State’s 2014 spring commencement.
Later in 2014, Ziegler publicly named Victim 6’s sister–not once, but twice. He also publicly named Victim 6’s mother.
In 2015, Ziegler openly bragged about taking a trip to the home of a person whom he claims is the boy Sandusky was molesting in the shower when Penn State assistant Mike McQueary walked in on the debauchery.
Later that year, he turned to Victim 6’s family again, posting pictures of his sister and slut-shaming her.
In September 2016, Ziegler really went on a tear. He started by posting a picture of Victim 3 at a Penn State football game, along with Paterno’s youngest son, Jay.
He then paid another visit to the home of the person he believed to be the boy in the shower, taking a picture of his house and posting a picture of him.
He then posted a collage of Victim 4 hanging out with Victim 6, and also posted an old picture of Victim 6’s mom.
These are some of the most chilling things I’ve ever seen on Twitter–and that counts some of the worst things I’ve seen from alt-right thugs acting in Donald Trump’s name. In what world is this not stalking and harassment?
Well, apparently in Ziegler’s world. He contends that the victims have “proactively put their names very clearly in the open public record.” But even if that were the case, any journalist with even a shred of decency knows that you do not publicly name a sexual assault victim. Period. Even if there is no law against it, it is 1,000 percent wrong. And even without that to consider, Ziegler is dragging innocent third parties into this. Even if you buy Ziegler’s contention that the victims are guilty of perjury, you do not put innocent third parties in harm’s way. Period.
Even without these tweets, Ziegler tacitly admitted that he was indeed stalking at least one victim in his attempt to deny that he ever stalked anyone. He claims to have fired off a number of emails to the person he believed to be the boy who was being molested in the shower “in an effort to find out what really happened.” He also made an appeal for him to come forward on YouTube, and left several voicemails. All the while, he promised to leave him be “if he simply responded that I had his real story wrong.” Finally, he claims to have gone to his house, only to have his wife tell him to leave. Am I the only one who thinks this at the very least meets the real-world definition of stalkerish behavior?
Moreover, as late as last week, Ziegler was engaging in harassing and intimidating behavior. On March 28, Ziegler called into the morning show at WRSC in State College, during which he publicly named Victim 5. You’ll have to take my word for it–I’m not linking to it. Unlike Ziegler, I’m not willing to put innocent people in harm’s way.
Storm told me last week that by any reasonable definition, Ziegler’s actions amount to “revictimization.” A previous attempt to close the loophole that allows this to continue was struck down on constitutional grounds, but Storm says that she is actively working to find a way to close it. As it stands now, the only way Ziegler can be held to account is if someone is seriously injured or worse.
But you shouldn’t need a law to know that this is totally unacceptable. Any reporter at a mainstream media outlet did even half of what Ziegler has done here would have been fired–at the very least. Moreover, the newspaper, radio station, or television station would have been forced to issue an apology. All together? There is no defensible reason for anyone to give this man a forum. If there is any justice, Ziegler’s flimsy attempt to defend himself ought to be the last thing he ever writes at Mediaite.
It has now been amply established that Ziegler’s twisted effort to clear Sandusky’s name has devolved into behavior that is despicable at best and criminal at worst. It has also been amply established that Ziegler is trying to pull a fast one on Mediaite’s owner, Dan Abrams, and Mediaite’s readers. Well, it’s time for this farce to end. Drop Abrams a line on his contact page, on Facebook, or on Twitter and tell him that Ziegler must be fired. It’s the most that can be done until Pennsylvania closes the industrial-size loophole that made his campaign of harassment possible.
(featured image courtesy Ziegler’s Twitter)