American Culture

Land of the Brave and Home of the Freeh

I am not a Louie Freeh sort of guy. He’s of that same Eagle Scout/Opus Dei strain of conservative Catholic as John Roberts. Yeah, he was appointed by Bill Clinton to be head of the FBI, but before that he was made judge by Bush One, and after he left the FBI he was praised by John Ashcroft. Let’s be honest–Ashcroft was so profoundly anti-American that if he praised my mother, I’d probably eye her with suspicion. And Freeh was a lousy head of the FBI, lurching from nightmare to nightmare (Robert Hansenn to the Chinese bribery scandal) and after leaving the FBI, has made his living as a shill for folks like the Saudi royal family. Safe to say I’m not inviting little Lou over to the house for a barbecue anytime soon.

And yet, last week, Freeh did something so brave, so special that he instantly erased a career of mediocrity. He took a stand that he knew would cost him millions and earn him hatred. He threw Joe Pa under the bus.

I will not rehash the case here. As everybody now knows, Jerry Sandusky was one of the more diabolical and dangerous child predators of our time. Uncle Jer ruined dozens of lives. Complicit in his felonies were his wife (possibly) and the leadership of Penn State (certainly.) Yes, Jer raped children in the showers of a public university, but he did so because the leaders of Penn State deliberately chose to let it go on because they feared exposure might look bad for PSU.

We will never know the arguments Joe Pa and the three stooges (Spanier, Gary and Curley) told their inner souls to buy a night’s sleep. Maybe, as I have written in other posts, it is that this behavior has been semi-accepted for longer than we care to admit and they were just products of the age. Maybe it was a cynical calculation that they could make their money and get out of town before the crime was discovered. (The Freeh reports strongly suggests the latter, at least for Paterno.)

At any rate, Freeh’s firm was hired to investigate. He did, and in the end threw his own client under the bus, exactly where they deserved to be, no doubt, but still.

Let me segue for a second. I have spent a lifetime as a corporate appartchik. I have sat in more meetings discussing how to contain a scandal (inappropriate sexual behavior, embezzlement, leaking confidential information, over-billing, product failures and the decision to recall or keep your fingers crossed, etc, etc.) than I can count.

I have also worked on many, many consulting studies where the right answer was: You fucked up big time, Mr. Client. But that’s not what the report said. We said “may have missed warning signs” or “insufficient governance processes” or any of the other thousands of ways creative guys like us could find to say something but not say it. Never, did I do what Louie Freeh just did, stand up, point a finger, and say, “J’accuse.”

And we didn’t for a very obvious reason. Because big corporations don’t hire consultants that threw their last client under the bus. Don’t think for a minute that big corporations go looking for someone who will find out the truth. They go looking for the most flexible consultant they can find with the most sterling reputation. They would hire a sock puppet if they thought the shareholders and public would buy it. (I was known for being a prim, outspoken Puritan, and a pain to deal with. I told the truth, but compared to Louis Freeh, it was a very soft truth I told.) Indeed, Louis opened his own client up to tens of millions, maybe more, of lawsuits and may have started the process that will result in the football program being abolished. In the clearest language possible.

This decision by Freeh to tell the blunt, horrible truth in unambiguous terms will cost him ten mil in terms of future gigs, maybe twenty. No guilty corporation is going to hire this guy. No PSU alum. If he’d just softened it a bit, he would have been in the clover.

But he didn’t. Finally, someone stood up for those poor kids. He didn’t turn his head or see something in the showers and run and tell his dad, he did something. I guess you never know how someone will react when presented with the BIG MOMENT where they can choose courage or safety. You probably can only know in hindsight that was the BIG MOMENT. But we know how the PSU leadership reacted, as craven accomplices, and we know how Freeh reacted.

Thank you, Mr. Freeh.

3 replies »

  1. I still haven’t read the report yet, but as a PSU alum myself (and as someone who has supported the Regents in their removal of Paterno over this), I need to. I don’t expect to like what I read.

    But if the report reads as you say it does, I’d hire Freeh. Were I in a position of authority (or likely to be) where I would need his services, anyway.

  2. Well done, and you’re absolutely right. Truth to power is hard; truth to the power that pays you is rare. Freeh deserves great praise.

    He has raised his brand in one market niche: The new leaders that need to throw the last bunch under bus in order to clear the smell. Banking, perhaps?