How the Media’s Intimidation & Circular Logic Created a “Perfect Storm” Against the Truth

Of the many infuriatingly illogical aspects of how the Jerry Sandusky scandal has played out, the most maddening may be that each media misstep has created the next one. Together they have formed a tidal wave of momentum which has intimidated and stifled any voices of opposition and created the misperception that there is no question that justice has already been served. This has also allowed for unreasonable punishments to be enforced without even basic due process.  

The sad reality is that this phenomenon has actually fostered the exact opposite result of what is currently perceived. Instead of being evidence that the system has been obviously vindicated, this “perfect storm” may have actually created a massive and, perhaps unprecedented, injustice.

We first saw this in action during the critical days following the original indictments. When Penn State stupidly declared that Joe Paterno would not be answering questions about the affair at his weekly press availability, the media immediately sensed weakness and signs of a “cover up.” This acted like a magnet for the media and immediately hundreds of vultures showed up eager to see the old man be made to look like a fool after having been put in a no win situation by the school he had almost literally built.

When Penn State saw, too late, the immense media interest in the Paterno press conference they panicked and pulled the plug. This further strengthened the media’s sense/hope that this was a Penn State/Paterno story with enormous ratings potential, rather than a Jerry Sundusky/Second Mile story that no would care about. It also made them realize that Paterno was hanging by a thread and, loving nothing more than a great story where they can feel like they have actually had a real impact for “good,” they couldn’t possibly resist cutting it.

This in turn created a complete change in focus and intensity of the story, which then facilitated a response from Paterno to try and save his job. This pressure forced Paterno into an act which, during any of his previous 50 years as coach would have been seen as admirable, but within this “perfect storm” he and those around him were slow to realize he was in, turned into a complete disaster.

Paterno’s statement that with the benefit of “hindsight, I wish I had done more,” combined with a chastising of the Board of Trustees to get on with more important matters, was immediately seen as an arrogant admission of quilt. In reality, it was nothing of the sort. In fact, it was actually the most truthful and courageous thing any one involved with this end of the story has ever said. But in this Perfect Storm, truth no longer had any power, and neither did Paterno.

This media reaction then only intensified the demands for Paterno to be fired and, with the prospect of Paterno’s final home game turning into a nationally televised prep rally looming at the end of the week, the media intimidation forced the Board of Trustees to almost literally wet themselves.

This in turn created the bizarre spectacle of Paterno being fired in as cowardly and botched an operation as could possibly be imagined. This in turn caused the students to “riot” and allowed the media to condemn them as “out of touch” and create the grotesque misperception that they were showing disrespect for the victims of child sexual abuse. This had the remarkably underrated impact of taking the starch out of any fight back from almost every element of Penn State, an influence which is still very much in play today.

The rush to fire Paterno without even a semblance of due process cemented in the consciousness of the public, and justified it in the minds of the media, that this MUST be a Penn State scandal. After all, how could a legend like Paterno get fired unanimously and unceremoniously if it wasn’t? This of course is a circular argument. The media used a result they illegitimately created in order to substantiate the illegitimate presumptions they used to create the results in the first place. Unfortunately, this would hardly be the last time this tactic would work like a witch’s evil charm.  

Another element of the Perfect Storm for Paterno was that his death, understandably, lulled his supporters into a false sense of security that the worst was over. I myself remember thinking (obviously incorrectly) that sympathy for his passing along with Phil Knight's stirring speech would allow for the narrative to finally return to some semblance of sanity.

When Sandusky was convicted (though, ironically/tellingly not of the very charge which created the media hysteria to begin with) the media narrative was that somehow this proved how much Paterno and Penn State had to have known about him and “clearly” covered it up. Of course what they never mentioned (and probably didn’t even realize) was that the great majority of the most damning evidence against Sandusky came forward AFTER the indictments. Unfortunately, this misunderstanding (yet another part of the Perfect Storm) has caused people to evaluate Paterno/Penn State through the prism of what we know now instead of what they likely knew many years ago.

Because they fired Paterno inappropriately, the Board of Trustees had felt forced to justify their act of cowardice. Penn State also believed that, thanks to the media intimidation, that it had to show the world how much it really “got” how badly they had screwed up. Consequently, they decided to spend $6.5 million on the Freeh Report to substantiate the firing of Paterno and purify itself of its suddenly “horrific” past. Thus began a prolonged process of “self flagellation” which had its crescendo in the wake of the release of the report itself.

So, with the media having made its position abundantly clear on the issue, and with Paterno having passed and anyone who could have credibly defended him censored by pending criminal litigation, it could not have been more obvious to Louis Freeh, who was trying to rehabilitate his own image, what path he was supposed to take. He was practically paid by Penn State to destroy Paterno and, by extension, Penn State football. Years of envy and jealousy of the program (both internally and externally) which had gotten all of the attention and accolades for being seen as “clean,” was now finally getting its chance to come pouring out in a torrent of ill conceived revenge.  

Here is where things got down right comical. Freeh (or someone close to the investigation) leaked the content of just one email and the media frenzy began to get whipped up before the report was even released. Expectations were created that the results would be devastating to Paterno and Penn State. So when the report was released at 9 am and the conclusions seemed so incredibly damning, while also backing up the media’s current narrative in spades, the media lapped it up like cool water in a desert oasis.

Not that they had much other choice. Absurdly, the press conference to discuss the report was needlessly held just an hour later, which meant that there was zero chance the questioners could have read the actual evidence even if they had wanted to (which they clearly didn’t). In the politically correct world this is called crafty maneuvering. In the real world you might call this a fix.

So instead of Freeh being inundated with specific questions about his highly suspect tactics, faulty conclusions, and inaccurate statements related to the report, he got nothing but softballs and praise. The media breathlessly rushed to report his “conclusions” as fact and never even bothered to get to the actual “evidence” which allegedly backed them up (facts are such a drag when you are in a hurry to get on TV before the two hour news cycle has been exhausted). The perception that Freeh’s report was the legitimate final word on the entire subject was set in stone literally before anyone who actually bothered to read it had any chance at all to finish.

So, with the pro-Paterno forces having been kept in the dark about what was coming and shocked at what appeared to incomprehensible conclusions, Tim Curley and Gary Schultz muzzled by their impending trial, Paterno himself no longer around, and few in the media even willing to consider that there was even another side to the story, no meaningful counter attack could be mounted before the national conversation immediately turned to punishment. Even strong Paterno supporters like Phil Knight and Mike Krzyzewski backed away, almost certainly without any idea that the report being hailed by the media was actually so remarkably flawed. By the time the Paterno family announced plans for their own investigation, they were roundly mocked for being “out of touch.”

It was in this atmosphere where the pillaging of the Paterno legacy and the Penn State football empire became incredibly easy. The media immediately began to campaign for both the removal of the Paterno statue and the NCAA to impose the death penalty. Bizarrely, both USA Today (partly through Northwestern grad and Michigan fan Christine Brennan who prominently called for the death penalty ) and Sports Illustrated even connected the two situations, strongly implying that the statue must come down to appease the Gods of the NCAA and show that Penn State “got it” and was deserving of mercy.

So instead of fighting back and demanding some accountability for the report and simple due process, the Penn State Board of Trustees, once again boxed in by their previous cowardice, melted like a candle in a blast furnace. They somehow decided to “accept” (without ever actually voting on it) the conclusions of the report they had paid for to justify their firing of Paterno and then basically lost control of their bodily functions as the NCAA inappropriately used the same report as a weapon to bash them over the head. Meanwhile, the Penn State president decided to cave in on the statue issue (gee, that really helped with the NCAA!) under the grounds that it had become too “divisive.” Bending so easily to such verbal intimidation is usually called the “heckler’s veto,” something which used to be disdained by institutions of higher learning.

The removal of the Paterno statue once again further ingrained the notion that both he and Penn State must be guilty and the Freeh Report must be credible. After all, why would Penn State do this if both of these things weren’t true? Then of course came the Draconian and nonsensical NCAA sanctions which, remarkably, were void of basic due process, jurisdiction, logic, or even actual evidence.

In roughly the equivalent of the executioner being called in moments after a Wild West kangaroo court ruling, the NCAA essentially wiped out much of Penn State football’s past, present and future. While all of the sanctions were absurd based only on the literal rush to judgment (the far less complex Reggie Bush/USC investigation took four years longer to complete than this one did), the most ridiculous was the forfeiting of wins from years before there was even an allegation of misconduct on the part of Paterno or Penn State. Even a source at the Freeh Report went public with the argument that what they had found was never even intended to be used in that way by the NCAA.

So why was the normally impotent NCAA suddenly willing and able to act in such a quick and overly aggressive fashion? Quite simply because they knew that the media was blowing a hurricane wind at their back and that Penn State was waving a white flag from the fetal position. The never ending cycle of circular arguments and the media momentum they created had come to its ultimate and grossly unjust conclusion. The only reason it has stop, at least for now, is that there was quite literally nothing left for them to destroy.  

Now, all that is still left is for the actual truth to come out. That is where we at have pledged to do the work which no one else has had the courage to do. The facts are on our side. The question is whether the power of truth is strong enough to scale this mountain of media cowardice and intimidation.