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Consider the column by Bob Ford, “Indictment of former Penn State coach on sex-abuse charges could bring down Paterno,” published in the Inquirer on 6 November 2011, one day after the Attorney General’s office issued the grand jury’s presentment indicting Jerry Sandusky, Tim Curley and Gary Schultz. Although its title says the indictment “could” bring down Paterno, Ford’s third paragraph actually asserts that “Paterno cannot and should not survive…”
As I’ve demonstrated elsewhere, (See: http://www.walter-c-uhler.com/Reviews/mcqueary.html) the grand jury presentment contains three inflammatory false assertions, falsely attributed to Mike McQueary. The most notorious of the false assertions states that McQueary “saw a naked boy…being subjected to anal intercourse by a naked Sandusky.”
No, he did not! And, contrary to other false assertions in the grand jury presentment, neither did McQueary report a rape to Paterno, Curley or Schultz. In fact, to this very day, nobody – including McQueary -- can be absolutely certain that any kind of sexual assault on Victim 2 actually occurred!
Nevertheless, like so many morons in the press and public, Ford uncritically swallowed the false second-hand assertions attributed to McQueary in the grand jury’s presentment and went after Paterno. Thus, Ford wrote a column that was premature, infantile and “told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Another sports reporter, Frank Fitzpatrick, also contributed to the asinine columns oozing out of the Inquirer. In his article, “Ex-Penn State disciplinarian says football players received special treatment under Paterno,” Fitzpatrick made much of the allegations by Vicki Triponey -- vice president of judicial affairs at Penn State from 2003 to 2007 -- which indicated that she “bumped heads with Paterno whenever a football player was in trouble.”
Ms. Triponey’s allegations supported Fitzpatrick’s erroneous conviction that Paterno reserved to himself the right to discipline football players, thus fostering a pervasive culture of secrecy around the football program. When I reminded Fitzpatrick that the State College police chief told USA Today that he was never pressured by school officials in any case involving an athlete, Fitzpatrick gave me an absolutely thoughtless response: “So you think this former administrator is making this all up? …for what possible reason?”
When I sent him a link to an article about another Penn State official, Joe Puzycki, who disputed Triponey’s assertion, Fitzpatrick didn’t respond at all. And he wrote nothing in the Inquirer about Puzycki’s contradiction of Triponey.
But, such shoddy journalism pales when compared with the egregiously irresponsible, if not dishonest, linkage Fitzpatrick made between Paterno’s so-called secret handling of his current players and Penn State’s secret handling of allegations about a retired coach, Jerry Sandusky.
As I stated in an email to Fitzpatrick on 23 November 2011, “When you wrote about Paterno’s attitude that player discipline was ‘nobody’s business’ but his, you made an irresponsible jump to conclusions when you added: ‘That attitude might help explain why Curley and ex-Penn State official Gary Schultz allegedly tried to cover up the behavior of longtime football assistant Jerry Sandusky…’”
Obviously, when you consider that both the State College police chief and Penn State’s Joe Puzycki have disputed Triponey’s assertions, Fiztpatrick’s claims about Paterno’s “attitude” and “culture of secrecy” begin to crumble. Consequently, so does his vile supposition about Curley and Schultz.
Even more egregious than the nonsense spewed by the Inquirer’s sports reporters, however, were the idiotic columns written by “real” journalists, such as the Inquirer’s Editorial Board, John Timpane, Diane Mastrull and Michael Smerconish.
In its 4 December 2011 editorial, the board of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote: “Instead of alerting authorities, university officials and staff participated in what has all the markings of a cover-up. Their dismissal of the reported rape of a boy in a locker-room shower as mere ‘horsing around’ was an outrageous example of a mind-set that the university must now eradicate…”
What “reported rape?” Obviously, none other than the assertion of “anal intercourse,” attributed to Mike McQueary in the grand jury presentment.
As we now know, however, the Editorial Board responded to a pseudo-event, one created by the person who falsely summarized McQueary’s testimony in the grand jury presentment. Thus, the Editorial Board, too, took the grand jury presentment to be the gospel truth. Morons!
Had the Editorial Board waited just one week, it might have noticed that the Harrisburg Patriot-News reported that it had obtained a copy of McQueary’s 2010 hand-written statement to investigators. That hand-written statement included McQueary’s claim that he “did not see insertion.” Presumably, even members of the Editorial Board would have been smart enough to suspect that McQueary’s first-hand testimony, denying that he witnessed anal intercourse, was probably more reliable than the grand jury’s second-summary of his testimony that claimed he actually “saw a young boy... being subjected to anal intercourse.”
And, had the Editorial Board waited until Mr. McQueary gave his first-hand testimony at the preliminary hearing for Curley and Schultz on 16 December 2011, it would have learned that McQueary not only repeated his claim that he “did not see insertion,” it also would have learned that McQueary insisted that he never used the words “anal” or “rape” since day one. They also would have learned that he never used the words “anal intercourse,” “anal sex,” or rape when reporting what he saw to Paterno, Curley and Schultz.
Thus, the jackals on the Editorial Board violated the most fundamental rule of sound journalism. “News and truth are not the same thing. The function of news is to signalize an event, the function of truth is to bring to light the hidden facts, to set them into relation with each other, and to make a picture of reality on which men can act.” [Walter Lippmann,Public Opinion, p. 226]
Ignoring Lippmann’s fundamental distinction, the Editorial Board righteously pontificated about the news without knowing the truth. This egregious error testifies mightily to the abysmally poor state of journalism at the Inquirer and in the United States today.
On 25 January 2012 John Timpane demonstrated his journalistic incompetence by making the same mistake in an article titled: “Did media coverage fan fire over Paterno?” As I wrote to him on 26 January 2012: “Of course it did, but not for the small and partial reasons you suggest. You seem to have forgotten your Walter Lippmann. News isn’t truth! In the very rush to report the news of the actual grand jury presentment and comment on it, nobody questioned the accuracy of the document. Joe Paterno became the object of your attention, not the document. Virtually everyone in the media failed Socrates’ admonition that a judgment of the right and the wrong must await a determination of the true and the false.”
John Timpane is a highly educated man, which makes his failure to detect the most fundamental issue fanning the fire over Paterno all the more depressing. It’s “depressing,” because it is symptomatic of a debased and debasing media culture.
Diane Mastrull is a Penn State alumnae who, based upon the idiotic column she wrote for the Inquirer on 29 January 2012, reminded me that not all Penn Staters obtain a genuine education with their degree. In her article, “Waiting to be Penn State proud again,” she appears unable to forgive Joe Paterno for alerting “his superiors, but not police, when he learned of at least one of the purported attacks.”
For Ms. Mastrull to hold such an unforgiving attitude, she must either be unaware that Paterno met with Tim Curley AND Gary Schultz – the Penn State official in charge of the University Police -- or she must believe that contacting Gary Schultz does not count as contacting the police. If the latter, someone needs to tell her that both Mike McQueary and his father, John, have testified under oath that, when they talked to Gary Schultz, they believe they were talking to the police. If that doesn’t count, what does Ms. Mastrull know that they didn’t?
Moreover, Ms. Mastrull should keep in mind that any moron can rant about “the university’s misguided agenda of protecting image over the helpless.” But, it is quite another thing to prove such a “misguided agenda” existed. Were I a betting man, I’d bet that the charges of perjury against Curley and Schultz will fall flat on their face and, consequently, so will all the nonsense about a cover-up to protect Penn State’s image. At that point, I’ll be asking Ms. Mastrull to write a public apology in the Inquirer.
Finally, we have Michael Smerconish, who’s worked hard in his 5 February 2012 column to prove he’s a buffoon. The column is titled: “JoePa was not ‘real trustee’ of Penn State.” Although a less important issue, Smerconish gets it egregiously wrong when he implies that Paterno knew about the university’s investigation of Sandusky in 1998 and, thus, successfully got Sandusky to retire in 1999. I devoted an entire article to this subject months ago. (See: http://www.walter-c-uhler.com/Reviews/paterno1.html ) Thus, I suggest that Mr. Smerconish write nothing more about this matter without consulting it. What’s far worse, however, is Smerconish’s glib and despicable assertion that Paterno should have done more. Who the hell is he?
Smerconish’s smug belief is popular among the country’s booboisie – who always need to feel superior to somebody, somehow -- but it has been demolished by a former New York City police captain, Louis Lombardi. As Mr. Lombardi knows better than most, “In matters of crime, we as a society have instilled in our culture that one’s only obligation is to report the matter to the proper authorities and that they will take it from there.”
“We have a hands-off policy. If the authorities need more from you, they will contact you. From my experience in policing, after someone reported a crime, he or she did not follow up to see if it was properly being investigated. This ‘report-and-forget’ did not change merely because children were involved. When a child abuse case fell through the cracks and nothing was done to protect the child, those close to the incident would routinely state that they reported it to the authorities and thought action was being taken to correct the situation. This refrain was constant across the spectrum of society.”
“Paterno in reporting the allegations of child sex abuse to his superiors complied with society’s moral obligation. If we expect more out of our citizens in these matters, we as a society much change, not just an individual.” [“Our Morality Problem,”Centre Daily Times, Jan. 30, 2012]
In addition, I’ve corresponded with a former member of Penn State’s police force, who told me: “There existed, at least during my tenure, however, a semi-formal practice or culture of reporting infraction (sic) administratively up the chain first, before calling police.” This former police officer also noted that he witnessed “similar practices across the University, including Intercollegiate Athletics.”
By now, it should be clear that lesser men, like the columnists at the Philadelphia Inquirer, have been nipping a Paterno’s heels because he supposedly did not live up to the high moral standards he set for himself. But, as Mr. Lombardi correctly noted: “That [was] a question for him to answer and him alone.” Look around. Who in our society lives up to Paterno’s demanding standards? Certainly not the incompetent journalists at the Inquirer!
Looking at how the “august” columnists at the Philadelphia Inquirer have slandered Joe Paterno only reconfirms H. L. Mencken’s observation about the meager skills necessary for a successful career in America:
“Here the general average of intelligence, of knowledge, of competence, of integrity, of self-respect, of honor is so low that any man who knows his trade, does not fear ghosts, has read fifty good books, and practices the common decencies stands out as brilliantly as a wart on a bald head, and is thrown willy-nilly into a meager and exclusive aristocracy.” [“On Being An American]
Unfortunately, the aristocracy of columnists at the Inquirer remains the aristocracy even after demonstrating that don’t know their trade.
Walter C. Uhler is an independent scholar and freelance writer whose work has been published in numerous publications, including The Nation, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Journal of Military History, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Moscow Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. He also was President of the Russian-American International Studies Association (RAISA).