By Dan Vecellio
Quick. Don't think. Who is prime suspect number one in the scandal involving Penn State right now? If you were to read 95% of the stories put out by the national media since Sunday or gone on Twitter or (from stories I've heard) spoken with any of the national talking heads trudging through State College right now, they would tell you that the villain in this horrible, horrible incident is Joe Paterno.
Tell me, when was the last time you heard Jerry Sandusky's name? When was the last time you heard about the charges brought against athletic director Tim Curley and former VP of Business and Finance Gary Schultz? I'm fairly certain that these three men have been the ones charged with crimes in this on-going investigation.
Some of you may know me as the former sports editor at Onward State. I started writing my junior year and became fascinated with journalism. I found it exciting to go fact-finding. To be able to relate a story to the masses was an exhilarating feeling. But over the past five days, my love for the craft has dwindled. I realized a whole lot about the business of journalism after reading the stories of the New York Times, Washington Post and some of the most respected news blogs in the nation. And yes, I said BUSINESS of journalism. Because journalism has now gone past its roots. It is no longer about telling a story. It is making up the story that will sell the most papers, get the most pageviews, accrue the most Twitter followers and make the most money in the end. What will sell a story? Will a story about a no-name like Gary Schultz sell papers? Will a story about Tim Curley get an author noticed? Even a story on Graham Spanier, who has a bit more national prominence, won't bring in readership. Like I said, when was the last big story on the perpetrator, Jerry Sandusky, written?
You know what will sell, though? The downfall of an American icon. A man who has spent 60 years building the reputation of a football program, a university, a whole town doing the "legal minimum" but not his "moral duty" being pummeled both in writing and by cameras and microphones everywhere he goes. I can guarantee you, if Penn State was coached by some no-name, the stories churned out would be about the victims and the men who perpetrated these crimes.
I'm not here to defend what Joe Paterno did or did not do. That has been talked about in many other posts and in many other comment boards. But I hope to convey some of the things the media has lost sight of over the past week by dissecting different allegations they have brought up. Please follow along below.
1. "JOE PATERNO NEVER FOLLOWED UP ON THESE CHARGES" or "JOE PATERNO SENT THIS UP THE CHAIN OF COMMAND AND WASHED HIS HANDS OF THE SITUATION"
This was the first of many "facts" that was made up by the national media. If you've read the Grand Jury testimony, I commend you. Now go read it again. Pick out the part where it says Joe never went back to Tim Curley or Gary Schultz to see what was happening in the process. It never says he did, but it sure as hell doesn't say he didn't either.
2. "JOE PATERNO KNEW ABOUT (OR HAD TO HAVE KNOWN ABOUT) THE '98 ALLEGATIONS AND STILL LET A CHILD RAPIST AROUND HIS TEAM"
Once again, go back to the testimony. Nowhere does it say that Joe knew about any allegations before 2002. In fact, one person I know sat in a class on Tuesday and listened to Patriot-News reporter Sara Garim, who has been the point person for all of the investigative stories dealing with this case, say that Joe testified he did not know about the 1998 allegations, going as far to say: "I think it's fair to say, as far as you could possibly say, that Joe Paterno didn't know about [the 1998 investigation]." If some real investigating had been done by the national media, they'd probably know that too.
3. "JOE PATERNO ENABLED A CHILD RAPIST"
Use your words better. I understand your need for emphasis to sell, but using the word enable makes it seem like Joe hand-picked the boys for Sandusky.
4. "JOE PATERNO IS TIM CURLEY'S/GRAHAM SPANIER'S BOSS" or "JOE PATERNO RUNS PENN STATE UNIVERSITY"
Many columnists have brought this point up in regards to Joe pushing Mike McQueary's information up the chain of command. Since Joe runs everything there, he is to blame. He is the head honcho. Find other columns these men and women have written. Look at their Twitter feeds over the past year. Look at them from the past week! They'll tell you that he doesn't even run his own football team anymore and hasn't for 15 years. For an 84-year old man to not be able to look over 85 players and a coaching staff, but yet control 44,000 students on the University Park campus, plus the administrators, plus the faculty, plus the staff and handle day-to-day operations of a university seems unimaginable to me. But you know, whatever argument works at the time, guys.
When Joe Paterno released his retirement statement Wednesday morning, he said that he would finish out the year coaching. A large majority of the people I follow on Twitter and TV commentators said it wasn't enough and were adamant about it. He needed to resign now or be fired by the Board of Trustees. A huge, HUGE backlash for a man who just wants to coach four or five more football games. Later on in the afternoon, Ben Jones of Black Shoes Diaries and StateCollege.com tweeted that he was told Jerry Sandusky was spotted working out in a gym with his wife this morning. The reaction? "Wow." "Geez." "Welp."
This story has become so twisted that negative emotion about a man coaching a football game exceeds that of an accused chlid molester walking the streets of the town where he committed his crimes by what it seems to be millions of percent. By focusing on the tear-down of the most notable figure involved in the case, people have become numb to the man who did the most damage and those who have been accused to covering up that damage.
Sensationalizing a story led to Joe Paterno being the first man to lose his job in this fiasco. And while I have no qualms about saying Joe had to step down after this mess blew up, when looking back at the facts, is he really the first man who should have gotten the axe?
Now, since the media has completed Objective One: Bring Down JoePa, I hope they do what I always believed journalists did: find the facts, dig through the sources and tell the people the real stories happening in State College.