Hypocrisy in Media Penn State Story Line


The Penn State University football scandal has been ugly in a variety of ways, but not all of them are immediately obvious. In particular, the mainstream press, so proud of its progressive views on most moral matters, showed the puritanical streak they always reveal when a person widely believed to be of good moral character can be knocked down and branded a hypocrite. The media coverage in this case displayed the classic American journalism tactic of conveying salacious stories under cover of moral indignation. This was obvious in the rush to make Penn State football coach Joe Paterno the center of the story.

The real focus should naturally have been former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky and the Penn State officials who knowingly covered up the knowledge of Sandusky’s misdeeds. What Sandusky allegedly did to so many innocent boys over the course of at least two decades and probably more ought to be enough to make him the obvious villain in this story, the clear center of the press coverage. Yet he was rather quickly shoved to the background — my web search for stories on the scandal found that four times as many mentioned Penn State coach Joe Paterno as mentioned Sandusky.

It is equally clear that Penn State athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz are morally culpable and that they engaged in criminal behavior in covering up the matter, according to the grand jury testimony. There is no telling, at this point, how many boys were victimized as a result of their alleged refusal to bring the matter to the attention of the proper authorities when they apparently knew full well that a criminal action had been done on their watch. The same allegedly applies to university president Graham Spanier, who was fired by the institution’s board of trustees.

Yet all of these obvious alleged wrongdoings were given much less coverage than was accorded to Penn State coach Paterno. Instead of a story about sexual predation and a cover-up by government employees, this became a story about hypocrisy — a particular obsession of the U.S. media in recent years. Paterno should indeed have been subjected to much scrutiny for his involvement in the matter, but his emergence as the central cause of concern indicates an agenda among the press, whipped into a frenzy by a partiality toward simplistic, heroes-and-villains storylines.

It’s apparent that Paterno was wrong in failing to follow up on the matter after sending it up the chain of authority, according to the grand jury testimony. He should have kept after them, it’s now clear. And the lateness and weakness of his mea culpa suggests a lack of sympathy toward the victims, something which he did not correct until a few days into the week’s events.

By S.T. Karnick,

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