The past couple of weeks, with the unprecedented scandal at Penn State and follow-up scandal at Syracuse, have provided telling insight into the mentality and fallibility of the national media.
And it has been a sad commentary, especially for a public that relies on the national media for objective reporting and investigative journalism.
Today's case in point: The New York Times - that sanctified, celebrated, historic bastion of journalism - recently spoke with Jerry Sandusky for four hours.
In four hours obviously a lot of ground can be covered. Have you ever had a two-hour conversation? Just double it.
And what did the Times write about after these four hours, over the course of two interviews, with the infamous man accused of dozens of heinous sex crimes against children?
About Joe Paterno, of course.
The lead to the Times' big weekend Sandusky Scandal feature, following four hours of exclusivity with Sandusky himself, was the following: "The former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, in his first extended interview since his indictment on sexual abuse charges last month, said coach Joe Paterno never spoke to him about any suspected misconduct with minors ... ''
That was the first sentence - directly to Paterno. It was followed by a few sentences that pretty much just reiterated the same thing ("Sandusky said Paterno did not speak to him or confront him ... despite the fact that ... blah blah")
Hmmm. So after four hours with Sandusky, the best the Times can do is repeat exactly what Bob Costas gleaned three weeks ago in a relatively brief phone interview with Sandusky. Here is an excerpt from Costas' highly publicized interview on Nov. 14:
(The full transcript can be found at: http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/local/Jerry-Sandusky-Full-Interview-Transcript-133872303.html)
So, Sandusky sheds no new light whatsoever on Paterno's role in this epic tragedy, yet the Times chooses to lead its story with Paterno. What, were the other 3 hours and 57 minutes that unrevealing?
Sandusky is one of the most sickening, confounding, flagrant, mortifying and notorious accused criminals of our time. Millions are shocked and dumbfounded by the sheer volume and horror of the allegations against him. The Times speaks with him for four hours, an incredible opportunity to uncover, unlock, unveil, reveal and ... it leads with photocopied news about Joe Paterno.
Why would the Times do this?
Because the Times is more interested in supporting itself than anything else. What other conclusion is there?
The national media simply can't help itself from focusing on Paterno, or trying to justify its focus on Paterno, or justify its insistence that Paterno be fired (which of course he was). Despite the magnitude of Sandusky's alleged crimes.
The fact is, Paterno should have been placed on administrative leave pending the investigation. The grand jury presentment provides a sliver of incomplete information re: Paterno. A potentially damning and explosive sliver, for sure, but a sliver nonetheless.
There is an incredible amount that is as yet unknown about this saga. There is an investigation, and of course possibly a trial for Sandusky upcoming. Far too much is unknown at this point to fire Paterno - the PSU Board of Trustees canceled Paterno's press conference and never spoke with him before firing him - but enough is known to place him on leave pending the investigation.
Nonetheless, supporting its conclusions about Paterno is only part of the Times' rationale for focusing on Paterno. As importantly, the Times knows Paterno's name gets eyeballs, gets pageviews, gets attention.
(Curiously, the Times also seems to think that if Sandusky says something to someone else besides the Times - in this case Costas - he didn't actually say it.)
So, instead of journalistic prudence, instead of focusing on how Sandusky managed to get away with the widespread allegations against him, instead of burrowing for hours into the seemingly inconceivable - how such such monstrous behavior could occur so often over such a long period of time with so many individuals so close to Sandusky either unknowing, unwilling or unable to prevent it - instead of zeroing in on "how could this have happened?", the Times opted to recycle Sandusky's comments about Paterno, which were virtually identical to his comments to Costas.
How sad - for us. The media is supposed to be the watchdog. Instead, it's your neighbor's annoying little barking fur ball, yelping the same screechy yelp, over and over.
Yes, of course there was much more to the Times' story. They did actually move beyond Paterno. There was some insight into Sandusky's charity, The Second Mile, permitting his continued access to kids for years even after it was informed in 2002 of the molestation allegation against Sandusky by then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary.
But there wasn't much more. And it was all buried beneath PATERNO. Just like everything seems to be.