The Sanctimonious Scavengers of the Penn State Scandal

 

by WALTER BRASCH

 

There is nothing the media love more than a good celebrity sex scandal.

Since the story of Scarlett Johansson’s purloined nude pictures had run its course, and the media squeezed every drop of ink it could from the Kim Kardashian/Kris Humphries engagement/wedding/marriage/divorce, they had to find something else to feed the beast with the insatiable appetite.

Something else was Penn State. Neatly packaged for the media was the trifecta of what passes as journalism—sex, scandal, and celebrity. And so the media circus rolled into State College, salivating at their good fortune.

The “sex” part of the story was that Jerry Sandusky, former defensive coordinator of the Nittany Lions, was accused of 21 felony counts of sexual abuse of boys. A 23-page Grand Jury report, released Nov. 4 following a drawn-out three-year investigation, detailed some of the specifics. However, this story, no matter what the media say it is, is not about sex. It is about child molestation, child abuse, and endangering the welfare of a child. Big difference.

The “scandal” is that it appeared that high-ranking Penn State officials, although they restricted Sandusky’s access to campus, didn’t contact police or child protection services, possibly believing they were protecting the university’s image.

The “celebrity” part is Joe Paterno, who listened to a graduate assistant who says he saw an act of sodomy by Sandusky, and then, disgusted by what Sandusky may have done, reported it the athletics director and senior vice-president for administration. Paterno met his legal responsibility, and isn’t under any criminal investigation. Questions to Paterno in court would probably result in the defense objecting to hearsay testimony since Paterno never witnessed the act.  

Almost every Pennsylvania TV station and dozens of networks sent camera crews into State College. As the number of TV crews increased, the quality of reporting sank, as almost every on-air reporter seemed to feel a need to ask even dumber questions and make dumber statements than every other reporter. These are the TV stations that send camera crews to out-of-town football games, Spring training in Florida, and bowl games, yet have downsized their news staff, plead economic poverty, and failed to adequately cover critical news stories. In Pennsylvania, it has meant little original reporting about conflict-of-interest and ethics scandals in the state legislature. Sports, apparently, is “sexy”; the public’s money and legislature integrity aren’t.

These are the same members of the media who for many of Paterno’s 46 years as head coach had filed stories that he should step down after any two losses in a row, or during a losing season, or even a season that didn’t have enough wins. The media had also layered comments that Paterno was everything but senile, that he was too old to be coaching. But, Paterno, known in the media as “JoePa,” kept winning, and kept demanding academic and athletic excellence in addition to moral integrity from his players. The university’s library, not any of its athletic buildings, is named for him. America’s best-known coach was building not a place for future NFL stars, but a place where college students could supplement their education to become productive members of society. His graduation rate is among the highest in Division I athletics.

However, based upon the amount of newsprint and air time given to this story, you would swear that Paterno was guilty, arrested, and probably already convicted. The media almost forgot about Sandusky as they began piling on to Paterno. Six column headlines and five minute network stories dominated the news agenda. Like sharks, they smelled blood and circled their prey, a towering figure about to be toppled. With little evidence, these sanctimonious scavengers called for one of the most ethical and inspirational coaches and professors to resign, claiming he didn’t do enough, that he should have personally called the police rather than follow established protocol.

.Many of the media horde, who had never written any story about Penn State’s excellent academic and research programs, soon began pumping out ludicrous statements that Penn State’s reputation would be tarnished for years. Despite their self-righteous denials, the screeching of “Joe Must Go” in one-inch bold black headlines undoubtedly influenced the university’s board of trustees, which was constantly proving that incompetence isn’t just a media trait. Their attitude seemed to be not whether what Paterno did was a terminable offense, but that to terminate him would somehow save the university’s tarnished reputation—and maybe preserve the value of their own luxury seats at Beaver Stadium.

On Wednesday, Nov. 9, three days before the Penn State/Nebraska game, which was to be the last home game of the season, the Trustees, with a push from Gov. Tom Corbett, fired Paterno, thus justifying all the ink and air time spent by the media that seemed distracted from the real story—Sandusky, not Paterno, was arrested.

That night, thousands of students staged a demonstration of support for Paterno. The media called it a riot and almost universally condemned the students for exercising a First Amendment right of peaceful assembly and freedom of speech. What little damage done—the highest estimate was about $20,000—was by a relatively small number of participants.

On game day, the media camped in front of Paterno’s house. ESPN coverage of the game, which drew about twice as many viewers as expected, was constantly punctuated by the “scandal,” and what Paterno did and didn’t do. Tragedy had suddenly become a sport.

Contributing to the media’s shameful performance were mountains of crocodile tears, dripping with moral indignation. Had the media spent even a tenth of the time before the Penn State scandal to publish and air stories about child welfare problems, and what could be done to protect the most vulnerable of society, their myriad comments would have been credible.

In contrast to the masses, several reporters did credible reporting, including the hometown Centre Daily Times. But the best reporting might be that of Sara Ganim, who had begun her investigation first at the Centre Daily Times before moving to the Harrisburg Patriot-News. Three years after graduating from Penn State, she broke the story in March that the Grand Jury was investigating Sandusky and others. Her story at the time didn’t get much traction. But, for several months she meticulously gathered facts and wrote news, not opinion and speculation, which dominated the work of many of her colleagues, many of whom showed they were incapable of even reaching the journalistic standards of reporting at the National Enquirer.

Perhaps Joe Paterno should have done more; perhaps he should have called the police or at least followed-up with his earlier concern. But, we don’t know yet the facts.

One concern remains. Today, these Monday Morning Quarterbacks of the media and a pack of largely anonymous self-righteous fans all say that unlike Paterno they would have done “the right thing.” How many, if faced by the same set of circumstances, would have done “the right thing” a month ago?

 [Dr. Brasch had begun his journalism career as a sports writer and sports editor before moving into public affairs/investigative journalism. He is an award-winning syndicated columnist and retired journalism professor. His latest of 17 books is Before the First Snow, a story of the counter-culture.]

 

 

The Conservative Pope and the Secular Media

Over the past few weeks, the Catholic Church has found itself mired in controversy, plagued by an ever-growing sexual abuse scandal unfolding in Europe. The pope himself has come under substantial criticism, to such an extent that a leading German magazine titled a report, “The Failed Papacy of Benedict XVI.”

Yet the media’s growing chorus of criticism reveals as much about itself as it does about the mishaps of Pope Benedict XVI. It reveals much about how the media thinks about itself, and about the media’s worldview of what society ought to be like.

Historically, the Catholic Church and the Western media have always had moments of tension. The two are almost naturally at odds; their philosophical foundations constitute polar opposites. The church is fundamentally a conservative institution, hierarchy-bound and traditional. It embodies a force – religion – which often works in a conservative direction.

The modern Western media could not be more different from this. If liberalism were to be characterized, describing the media could do the job well. The media sees itself as an agent of change, uncovering society’s injustices and working towards reform. Under this view, the world is consistently getting better, and media lies on the vanguard of the forces of progress. Religion, on the other hand, constitutes an obstacle standing in the path to a better world.

To many holders of this belief (i.e. the media), Pope Benedict XVI is moving the church backwards in the 21st century. Unlike his predecessor, Benedict XVI is not considered a hero, nor is he adept at media relations (or particularly photogenic, for that matter). Instead, Benedict XVI is an intellectual traditionalist who spent much of his career attacking liberal reformists in the church before becoming pope.

In many ways, therefore, the media’s negative coverage of the pope is not only due to the current sexual abuse scandal. Rather, it is a critique of everything the media dislikes about the pope – his conservative worldview, his reintroduction of the Tridentine Mass, his apathy towards dialogue with other religions, his lifting of Holocaust denier Richard Williamson’s excommunication, and his many writings condemning the forces of secularism which created the media.

This is not to defend Pope Benedict XVI nor to attack the media. The church’s mishandling of the abuse scandal does indeed merit substantial criticism; its response has been defensive and clumsy. There is plenty of material to justify the media’s criticism; the cases of sexual abuse appear quite outrageous. On the church’s side, the pope’s traditionalist views are genuinely felt while his critiques against moral relativism are often quite legitimate.

Rather, this is to look beneath the surface of the sexual abuse controversy. Its widespread negative coverage constitutes part of a deeper, long-standing conflict between a conservative church and a liberal media. It won’t be the last time the church and the media come into conflict.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

 

The End May Be Nigh for John Ensign's Political Career

Nevada's top political journalist, Jon Ralston, reports:

In the federal penal code, it is known as "structuring."

And it is a word Sen. John Ensign should remember because it is very likely to be on any indictment with his name on it.

That’s what I am told by a reliable source familiar with the deliberations occurring inside the Justice Department as federal authorities in Washington try to do with Ensign what they could not do with former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens: Get their man. Or, because they had Stevens and then lost him because of misconduct, Justice wants to make sure if it goes to the next step with Ensign, the charges stick.

Indictment? Don't mind if I do. (Remember, it was the abysmal Bush DOJ that fumbled the Stevens prosecution.) So what is "structuring?"

Structuring is a broad term that refers to the crime of creating financial transactions to evade reporting requirements — for example, a $96,000 payment to your mistress laundered through a trust controlled by your parents and calling it a “gift” instead of what it obviously was: a severance payment that had to be reported.

Based on the facts already in public domain, it seems there may be enough for an indictment.

Two former federal prosecutors in the past two weeks have said there is enough evidence to indict Ensign. “Just based on what the senator has said himself and what Mr. (Doug) Hampton has said … under the federal standard of probable cause, there’s enough to indict the senator now,” ex-prosecutor Stan Hunterton, a well-respected local attorney, said March 19 on “Face to Face.” Then, Thursday on the program, Melanie Sloan, the former federal prosecutor who now heads a D.C. watchdog group that has filed several complaints against Ensign, said, “I completely think” Hunterton is right. ...

The department is being very deliberate in assembling a case against Ensign. But Justice has a mountain of documents and e-mails that, combined with the senator’s own admissions or statements in e-mails, would seem to amount to a formidable case. And last week’s New York Times story, showing how Ensign’s contacts with a local company (similar to several other interactions), show how far the senator was willing to go to get Hampton work, mostly while he was employed by ex-Ensign aides who had formed a lobbying/consulting firm. The structure, so to speak, is becoming more transparent all the time.

Beyond Ensign's dire and deserved legal fate, what are the political implications?

If Ensign gets indicted, he will become a national and state nightmare for the GOP. National Democrats will brandish him as a symbol of corruption (they may anyhow) and local Democrats will wrap the junior senator around the GOP Senate nominee’s neck, especially because Sue Lowden and Danny Tarkanian foolishly have said they would welcome his support. I wouldn’t even be surprised to see Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid directly go after his pal to boost his sagging fortunes. I can hear it now: “Sorry, John. But now you know how Doug Hampton feels — how it feels to be screwed over by your best friend.”

Why are the national and state Republicans mute? Cowardice, perhaps? Or is it, as NBC political guru Chuck Todd tweeted Friday, repeating something he previously said on “Face to Face” a couple of weeks ago: “NV/DC GOPers desperate to wait for Gov. Gibbons to be out of office before pushing Ensign out but can they really (http://nyti.ms/91kElt)?”

The Web link in Todd’s tweet is to last week’s Times story, emphasizing the point that if the Republicans wait too long, their silence could be very costly. And if Ensign gets indicted and no prominent Republican has called for him to resign, there’s no way to structure that deal to the GOP’s benefit.

Ensign and Washington Republicans can continue to do what they've been doing all along - ignore, ignore, ignore. But they might not be able to run out the clock on Election Day 2010 - still seven months away - before indictments come down. And, as Ralston points out, if the Washington Republican establishment stays mum on all of this, the issue becomes a matter of the entire Party coddling its corrupt members. Hmmmm, Republican Culture of Corruption, where have I heard that before? And that's on top of the already-competitive gubernatorial and Senate races in Nevada, which is also a key 2012 swing state, don't forget. (Lowden's and Tarkanian's poorly thought out statements welcoming Ensign's support will no doubt bite them in the backside if either is the Republican nominee against Majority Leader Harry Reid. The political ad writes itself.)

Particularly as it relates to the 2010 Senate races, the Senate Republican caucus is the Ensign-Vitter caucus. Every Republican incumbent Senator and candidate for U.S. Senate should be asked by their local media if they think hypocritical lawbreakers like John Ensign and David Vitter should resign their seats. They should be forced to call for the ouster of these hypocritical, lawbreaking Republicans or be forced to serve as apologists for them and let the voters decide. Though the media around the country largely may be dropping the ball on their responsibility, it appears federal investigators aren't. The national media that gave a relentless week of news coverage to the Eric Massa absurdity still hasn't fully given the Ensign matter (or the Vitter matter) its due. However, the handing down of indictments, should that come to pass, will be national news and should force the issue for every Republican seeking federal office in 2010.

For news and analysis on the U.S. Senate races around the country, regularly read Senate Guru.

Weekly Audit: EFCA, Tax Cheats and the Racial Wealth Gap

By Zach Carter, TMC MediaWire blogger

The U.S. economy may finally be bottoming out. But if the worst is really behind us, we are likely facing a painful period of "growth" that looks very much like the present. Without increasing unionization and mitigating racial inequality, our economic progress will prove as hollow as it is slow. While the economy may improve in a dry, statistical sense, the foundation for a productive economy has been decimated over the past three decades.

The economy has shown some encouraging signs of strength lately. Home prices have actually increased and the pace of layoffs slackened quite a bit in July. But that data doesn't signify a strong recovery, as Andrew Leonard notes in a pair of blog posts for Salon. Even in areas where there is some good news--housing and the job market--there is plenty of contradictory bad news. First, mortgage delinquencies are at an all-time high, and the souring loans are not just subprime. Even people with relatively affordable mortgages have problems paying when they lose their jobs, and with the unemployment rate at 9.4%, a lot of people are losing their jobs.

What's worse, Leonard notes, new claims for unemployment benefits escalated in August, suggesting that last month's job market improvements may have been a fluke. And while home prices may be ticking up slightly, they have been abysmal for the past two years. Since many households accumulated debt based on higher home values, the overall ratio of consumer debt to household net worth is perilously high.

Household net worth is a crucial statistic and is often overlooked by a focus on day-to-day measurements of worker well-being, like wage growth. While wages matter for paying the rent and buying groceries, our long-term economic security is defined not by what we make each week, but by the value of the things we own. In a piece for The American Prospect, economists Derrick Hamilton and William Darity Jr. detail the massive racial disparities in household net worth in the U.S. While the median white family has roughly $90,000 to its name, the median Latino family has just $8,000, while the median Black family has only $6,000.

Centuries of discrimination have resulted in today's inequality, but Hamilton and Darity propose a simple, straightforward solution: The government should establish savings accounts for children born into poor families, and fund it with a relatively small amount of money. Children will not be able to access the accounts until they turn 18, but over the years, interest will accrue on the accounts to the point where children should have between $50,000 and $60,000 by the time they can withdraw funds. Since so many people of color are born into households with relatively low net-worth, establishing a policy to use government money to boost the wealth of those born without it would have the effect of promoting racial economic equality.

But we also have to worry about jobs. President Barack Obama's economic stimulus package has succeeded in creating or saving hundreds of thousands of jobs since going into effect earlier this year, but it is important to focus not only on creating jobs, but on creating good jobs. As Laura Flanders of GritTV emphasizes in a roundtable discussion with key academics and labor representatives, our increasingly hostile attitude towards unions has created major barriers to a sustainable economic recovery.

The legislation critical to ending this intimidation is known as the Employee Free Choice Act, one of the most important bills presented to Congress in decades, although it has been overshadowed by the debates surrounding  health care reform and financial regulatory overhaul. Flanders' panelists include Kate Bronfenbrenner, a Columbia University Professor who wrote a recent paper for the Economic Policy Institute examining 1,000 attempts to establish unions all over the country, and found that employer opposition to unionization is more aggressive than ever. A full 30 million workers want to be part of an organized union, but only 70,000 workers successfully organize each year.

"It's always been hard to organize, but employers now have made it harder than ever. They've literally have said to workers that, 'If you try to organize, we will go after you in every way possible,'" Bronfenbrenner said. "They threaten workers, they harass them, one in every three employers fire workers for union activity . . . . There literally is a war on workers who try to organize."

Another panelist, Mark Winston Griffith, Director of the Drum Major Institute, notes that the decline of unionization has weakened the economy. In the 1950s, when one-third of all U.S. workers belonged to a union, the potential foundation for the economy was strong. Workers were well-paid and had excellent job security, which created a strong source of demand. With less than 8% of U.S. workers unionized today, our economic demand is fueled by household debt, which has left families struggling for financial security and has injected a heavy dose of instability into the entire economy.

Writing for The Nation, Sarah Jaffe details the difficulties faced by a group of security officers in Philadelphia trying to unionize under current labor laws.

But while the workers who form the foundation of our economy are gasping for air, the elite have almost never had it better. A recent study found income inequality to be deeper than any period since World War I, and this absurdity plays out in public policy. While workers struggle to get a fair shake from their employers, executives and managers evade taxes through elaborate international financial deception. Swiss banking giant UBS recently agreed to turn over the names of thousands of its clients who allegedly used the company's banking operations to skip out on the bill for Uncle Sam.

UBS has been caught with its hand in nearly every cookie jar labeled "bank scandal" over the past two years, from the subprime mortgage crisis to phony securities peddling to diamond smuggling. But as Robert Scheer explains at Truthdig, former senator and deregulation hawk Phil Gramm (R-Texas), has been an executive at the firm while the company has been destroying its reputation. Gramm helped pass some two key anti-regulation bills later years of the Clinton administration, and was unabashed about jumping to UBS immediately after leaving office. Scheer notes that the public knows almost nothing about Gramm's role at the company, including any potential involvement in its laundry list of scandals.

Real economic progress in the U.S. is impossible without a stronger base of unionized workers. But it's just as important to invest in our future by giving the children of poor families an even economic playing field.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy and is free to reprint. Visit StimulusPlan.NewsLadder.net and Economy.NewsLadder.net for complete lists of articles on the economy, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical health and immigration issues, check out Healthcare.NewsLadder.net and Immigration.NewsLadder.net. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and was created by NewsLadder.

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LA-Sen: David Vitter Is the Senate's Biggest Coward

Remember last week how Republican Hookerlover David Vitter talked tough regarding "angry mobs" appearing at elected officials' town hall events:

This and any other angry mob is welcome to my town hall meetings whenever you want to come.

Of course, it was then reported that the questions Hookerlover so bravely took from the mob were pre-screened:

The Louisiana Republican spoke at what was billed as a town hall meeting at Louisiana College's Guinn Auditorium. It was a friendly audience but there was little chance for disagreement to be expressed.

The panel of speakers all joined Vitter in opposing the reform package being debated in Congress. Questions from audience members were screened and selected in advance of the event.

Well, sports fans, that's not all.  Now it's being reported that, not only were the questions pre-screened but, the audience was handpicked!  And when I say handpicked, I mean that Vitter's harem shipped in Teabaggers and turned away constituents! (emphasis added by me)

Unlike his Democratic colleagues who take all comers at their town halls, Vitter has sought to enforce a strict code of message control. According to a citizen journalist attending the August 8 Vitter town hall, "No one was allowed to spontaneously address the podium. There were no questions read that presented anything other than Vitter's view and those who spoke with him. ... Vitter was said to have no time to answer questions from the press." Indeed, Vitter only responded to questions that were written on cards by audience members and screened in advance by his staffers.

Many of those attending Vitter's town halls have been shepherded to the events by local chapters of TeaPartyPatriots.org, a supposedly grassroots network of national activists that happens to "partner" with the health-care and insurance industry-funded lobbying firm Freedom Works, which has directed angry mobs to Democratic events. At a town-hall meeting on August 10 in Jefferson Parish, many local constituents were  reportedly turned away while Tea Party activists were allowed to enter. When the event concluded, Vitter rushed out of the back door and away from the press and his constituents, guarded by a phalanx of police officers.

Vitter has good reason to fear public scrutiny. Had he not pre-screened his audiences, some wily constituent might have asked the senator to address his affair with Wendy Cortez, a high-priced New Orleans escort, or asked how his name showed up on the client list of Jeanne Palfrey, the so-called DC Madam, who killed herself in May 2008 after being convicted of money laundering. The constituent could have framed the question in terms of the health-care debate by asking Vitter why he reportedly wore a condom when he visited Cortez but subsequently tried to introduce an amendment barring health-care providers that offer free STD testing and contraception from receiving federal funds.

David Vitter has not answered to his constituents or to the law for his criminal acts, his dishonesty, his hypocrisy, or his shudder-inducing cowardice.  He's not even willing to answer to a skeptical constituent on his opposition to health care reform, much less his opposition to not sleeping with prostitutes.  I imagine that he will continue "rushing out of the back door" of events in order to avoid constituents and the press throughout the 2010 cycle.  Seriously, how does this coward look in the mirror?

For daily news and analysis on the U.S. Senate races around the country, regularly read Senate Guru.

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