Hearne: Wall Street Journal Bashes Ex Star Sports Scribe Joe Posnanski

No way this wasn’t going to happen…

Sooner or later some of the big boys were bound to take chainsaws to former Kansas City Star sports columnist Joe Posnanski. It was inevitable.

People here for the most part, were expecting the worse from Posnanski, where his Joe Paterno bio was concerned. Because we know him so well. No way would kind-hearted Joe lay the pipe to the fallen Penn State football coach after sucking up to him to get a reported $750,000 book deal and practically living with Paterno’s family for however many months.

Posnanski’s book deal that had the words “puff piece” written all over it.

And anybody familiar with Posnanski’s body of work understood why Paterno opened up his home and life to the former Star scribe.

Nobody delivers a better sports writing blowjob than Posnanski. Nobody.

Please don’t take that the wrong way – it’s not a shot – it’s just what Joe does.

And he does it well.

However in the case of the Paterno / Sandusky child sex coverup scandal, the entire free world wanted nothing more (and nothing less) than for Posnanski burn Paterno’s legacy at the journalistic stake.

But would he, could he?

So the $64 million question was, would any of the heavy hitters reviewing Posnanski’s “Paterno” book call the author out?

The Star freelance reviewer didn’t lay a glove on him. Obviously. The New York Times took a few shots at Posnanski but played the review mostly straight down the middle.

Which brings us to today’s Wall Street Journal review by Tim Marchman.

“Within a few days last fall, Joe Paterno, who had coached football at Pennsylvania State University for 62 years, lost his reputation and his job and then learned that he was dying,” Marchman begins. “Joe Posnanski was there. Then a writer for Sports Illustrated, Mr. Posnanski had been in Pennsylvania’s Happy Valley for months working on a book about the 84-year-old, for which he had been given unique access to the man, his family and his archives. At worst his biography would be the sort of life-lessons-from-the-coach book that well-known sportswriters seem compelled to write at some point; at best it would be a defining work, the perfect meeting of a legendary subject and a writer admired for celebrating what is good and right about American sport.”

Confirmation by Marchman that Posnanski’s a known softie.

“At best, Paterno was a sort of stuffed mascot, monstrously indifferent to everything around him,” Marchman writes. “At worst, he orchestrated an active conspiracy to protect Mr. Sandusky. Probably the truth is closer to the former, as Mr. Posnanski argues, but nothing he offers will change anyone’s mind.”

In other words, Posnanski missed his chance to write something definitive.

There’s more.

“It’s odd, given all the stories that Mr. Posnanski tells, how much of the myth he seems to believe,” Marchman writes. “He repeatedly invokes Paterno’s love for the ‘Aeneid’ as a sign of how cultured he was, when most big-city Catholics of his age and aspirations would have known a bit of Virgil. More to the point, the author buys Paterno’s comparison of himself to Aeneas, drawing a causal line between Paterno’s success and the rise of Penn State as an institution. In fact, the university’s rise had to do with enormous Cold War-era military spending. The school didn’t build a nuclear reactor in 1955 because of Joe Paterno. Today the program he built brings in tens of millions of dollars per year; the institution has an annual budget of more than $4 billion. Giving Paterno credit for building the school is like crediting legendary Celtics coach Red Auerbach for Boston.”

Clearly a shot at Posnanski’s naivete.

“Mr. Posnanski’s belief comes through most in certain asides, as when he describes students standing quietly around the campus statue of Paterno on the night he was fired,” Marchman writes. ” ‘This silence,” he writes, “weighed down the air, made it heavy and stifling, the quiet you might feel at the Vietnam Memorial.’ In such moments, Mr. Posnanski seems trapped not just by the myth but by his desire not to be like the meat-faced pundits who now compete with one another to see who can be most indignant over Paterno’s failures—just as avidly as they once competed to see who could do most to build the myth of Saint Joe in the first place. It’s a laudable instinct on the author’s part but leads him to see gray where there is only black.”

Put another way, Posnanski missed his chance.

If it’s any comfort to Posnanski – and I’m certain it won’t be – truth be known, Marchman went easy on him.

The Atlantic‘s Allan Barra mopped up the journalistic floor with Our Joe.

” ‘This book,’ writes Joe Posnanski in the introduction to his already controversial biography, Paterno, ‘is not a defense of Paterno,’ ” Barra begins. “Yes, it is, and relentlessly.”

“As a biography, Paterno is spotty at best,” Barra continues. “Some of the writing is flaccid and marred by bad poetry”

It gets worse.

“One problem is that Posnanski does not know college football, or at least he doesn’t know much about it before this century,” Barra adds. “His book is littered with statements about the game that simply are not true.”

Barra’s criticism of Posnanski reminds me of when Royals reliever Dan Quisenberry died in 1998, two years after Posnanski moved to KC and 10 years after Quiz left the Royals.

Posnanski wrote an effusive obit ode to Quisenberry that many – Greg Hall being one – felt was way over the top given that Posnanski had so very few dealings or history with Quiz.

But that’s what Posnanski did and does – pour out his heart – regardless the occasion.

As for Posnanski’s eagerly anticipated handling of Paterno’s role in the Sandusky scandal, “It’s not enough to say that Posnanski does not do well relating the facts of the Sandusky case and Paterno’s role in it,” Barra writes. “The truth is that he doesn’t really try…This is the crux of the matter. Time and again, Posnanski writes as if it was his intention to make clear issues cloudy.”

Worse yet, “Excuses for Paterno’s behavior are littered throughout the text…” Barra adds

. “For readers capable of assessing the facts without the spin that Posnanski tries to put on them, a disturbing portrait of Paterno—at least the Paterno of his later years—emerges in Paterno.”

Barra hammers Posnanski over and again – almost to the point where the Atlantic‘s book review almost becomes more of an author hit piece.

The unfortunate bottom line:

It’s a good thing Posnanski got nearly a million bucks to choke this baby out because from this point forward it’s more likely that he’ll be better known as a kind hearted butt kisser with a really good way with words, than a serious sports scribe.

Hey, but everybody deserves a second chance, right?



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15 Responses to Hearne: Wall Street Journal Bashes Ex Star Sports Scribe Joe Posnanski

  1. the dude says:

    Will gush and whitewash for $$$.

  2. rkcal says:

    Well, you is what you is. This book is DOA. I don’t know who the audience would be beyond Happy Valley apologists. Invest that 750k well, Joe, it may be a long road back.

  3. harley says:

    great hernia…while you’re here writing “puff pieces” about dive bars and
    babies crying in movie theatres joe is out there getting national attention
    for his book. Good…bad or indifferent…the book is getting lots of ink and
    air time for joe p.
    Jealous. They guy will make millions on the book and probably will become
    a movie with national tv appearances and tons of publicity.
    What are you doing today?

    • Hot Carl says:

      Make millions? He’ll be lucky if he doesn’t have to pay back most of the cash advance.

      • smartman says:

        After he pays taxes, his agent, his additional living expenses in Happy Valley, factor in time away from the wife and kids, the toll taken on his health from stress and anxiety as a result of the real life denouement, blah, blah, blah it’s not such a lucrative deal. I really doubt that book sales will be so significant that he’ll see any more dough.

  4. mike says:

    While the book may have seemed apologetic to Paterno, what would the reaction have been if it was not? Paterno is a polarizing figure at this point and no matter what was written about him, someone would have taken exception to it. A hit piece would have brought an outcry from many Penn State alum and others sympathetic to him, especially since Paterno is dead and can’t defend himself. This would have been a tough assignment for any writer to find the right balance with this subject matter.

  5. Rick Nichols says:

    The Wall Street Journal is hardly the final authority on sports or books. It’s got plenty of bad actors associated with the Street to keep tabs on without worrying about a dead football coach and how he’s being portrayed by others. My advice: don’t buy the book and take the money and donate it to a shelter serving abused children. Worry about your own legacy, not JoePa’s or JoePo’s.

    • harley says:

      rick is right….it’s like kicking a dead man….screw paterno and his
      lies….do something positive to change the world….or just your corner of it.

  6. smartman says:

    So the east coasters tell us what most of us already knew about JoPo. Thanks for the validation.

    Hopefully Joe will avoid the radio and tv circuit. Based on past experience he does not perform well in those environments. God forbid that anyone challenge him. He’ll just wilt. And if the camera adds 20lbs he’ll look like Jaba the Hut on television.

    So he got a big payday. That might make him rich but it doesn’t mean he’s a great writer. In summation, he was dealt a hand that someone like Sebastian Junger would kill for and he folded instead of going all in.

  7. Charlie Ford says:

    I’ve got an idea, Hearne. Why don’t YOU read the book and tell us what YOU think? I realize reading book reviews is a lot easier than reading an entire book, but it’s not a bad exercise.

  8. TOby says:

    Glazer doesn’t even know how to read beyond a 2nd-grade level. And while you’re up here bashing somebody’s writing you’re still using the phrase “64 million dollar question” in virtually every column. Tres chic!

  9. chuck says:

    This is another quote from the review by the Wall Street Journal.”

    “Joe Paterno was fired,” he tells us at the end, “why and how the board [Penn State trustees] made its decision is not my story to tell.” If not Paterno’s biographer’s, one wonders, then whose story is it? And what is so complicated about that story? The answer to “how” the board made its decision is quickly and nearly unanimously. The answer to “why” is that Paterno, as revealed in his own testimony to a grand jury and through numerous emails that have been revealed since investigations began, had full reason to suspect Sandusky’s monstrous crimes against children and did nothing to stop him.”

    Joe Posnanski could probably convince Janet Napolitano that Joran Van Der Sloot would be a great candidate for “The Bachelor”.

    The book is a galactic failure and exactly, what most folks expected according to the reviews I read, that were pro and con.

    Last week, I said —

    The book will be a puff piece.

    If ya gotta point to places on a Teddy Bear to describe what Uncle Jerry did to ya when you were 9 years old, and Uncle Jerry is doing life in solitary, for sins comitted, then the verdict is in on the details.

    The post mortem, in this case, administered by an author who has elevated sycophancy to a Christian Virtue, obviously engenders sarcasm with respect to his expected endeavors.

    It is going to be, an oblique apology for Jo Pa’s behaviour, with mitigating 2nd party references, extenuating circumstances and disingenuous piscatorial pursuits of the famous red herring.

    Joe Paterno’s silence, was Jerry Sandusky’s sanction.

    THAT should have been the salient point made in an American morality tale that serves as notice to reptialian rapist scum in all walks of life that the quid pro quo for child rape is disgrace, jail time and the opprobrium of the nation.

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