Humor is hard to find in the story of alleged child sexual abuse connected to the football program at Penn State University. But I've had to guffaw several times at the righteous indignation emanating from the mainstream media (MSM), expressing outrage that Penn State officials could turn a blind eye to misconduct in their midst.
Some MSMers even have hurled the term "cover up" at iconic football coach Joe Paterno and other PSU honchos. Why has that brought guffaws--of the dark-humor variety--from yours truly? It's because few institutions in American life are more adept than the mainstream media at providing cover for bad behavior, even criminal conduct.
As a sort of experiment, I recently contacted a reporter who had chastised Penn State officials for a "massive failure of leadership" when they were confronted with evidence of gross misconduct from former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. I reminded the reporter via e-mail, with copies to appropriate editors, that his newspaper had repeatedly ignored evidence of wrongdoing in its own backyard.
Did I receive a reply? Did the reporter and his superiors admit that they had failed to adequately cover any number of important stories and vow to do better--especially in light of their harsh words for the inactions of Penn State officials?
The answers? No and no. Given that the paper in question was The Birningham News, I hardly was surprised. But the same questions could be put to reporters and editors around the country--and they, too, probably would respond with a stony silence.
What prompted me to initiate a possible dialogue with folks at my local daily--when I know that such efforts almost always prove to be futile? Well, a column from sportswriter Jon Solomon, titled "Joe Paterno Had to Leave Immediately," grabbed my attention. And my own knowledge of a major scandal that The Birmingham News has ignored prompted me to act.
Here's how Solomon got rolling:
Even to the end, Joe Paterno thought he still called the shots. He thought after the massive failure of moral leadership at Penn State that he could still leave on his terms--after the season--rather than right now.
The failure by the adults in the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse was unfathomable. They all had to go immediately.
Solomon continued in the same unctuous mode:
Read the sickening grand jury report and it's devastating to see the number of missed chances to stop the alleged abuse and prevent other kids from getting hurt.
It's hard not to conclude that protecting Paterno's image and the win-at-all-costs mentality of college football resulted in Penn State turning a blind eye.
That was all I could take. I had to remind Solomon and Co. about a little matter involving Paul Bryant Jr., president pro tempore of the University of Alabama Board of Trustees. Bryant, one of the most powerful boosters in college athletics, has documented ties to a massive insurance-fraud scheme that landed a Pennsylvania lawyer named Allen W. Stewart in federal prison for 15 years. I have reported extensively on Bryant's ties to the case, but the MSM--both in Alabama and beyond--has ignored it. In other words, they have "turned a blind eye," the very thing that had Solomon's undies in a bunch.
I dashed off an e-mail to Solomon, with copies to Sports Editor Tom Arenberg and Editor Tom Scarritt. The header on my e-mail was "Jerry Sandusky and Paul Bryant Jr." Here is how it read:
I read with great interest your article today about the Penn State situation and Joe Paterno's failure to act on reports of criminal activity. You state that Paterno "had to go immediately" because of a "massive failure of moral leadership" at PSU. This all comes, you state, because Paterno and other Penn State leaders failed to act on reports of criminal actions involving former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky
Your piece raises this question: Does The Birmingham News act on reports it receives of criminal acts? What kind of moral leadership does The Birmingham News possess?
For example, I know that Paul Bryant Jr., president pro tempore of the University of Alabama Board of Trustees, was implicated in a $15 million insurance fraud scheme several years ago. This doesn't involve any great reporting on my part. Documents are available on the Web that prove the involvement of Alabama Reassurance, one of Bryant's companies, in a scheme that netted a 15-year federal prison sentence for a Pennsylvania lawyer/entrepreneur named Allen W. Stewart.
In fact, I provide the key document, highlighting pertinent portions, in the following post at my blog, Legal Schnauzer:
The post also includes information about a probable cover-up of Bryant's activities by officials with the U.S. Justice Department in the Northern District of Alabama.
Penn State officials apparently could not grasp the notion that Jerry Sandusky, a "leader of men," could be molesting boys--and you blast them for their moral failings. But can you and officials at The Birmingham News grasp this? Paul Bryant Jr. has documented ties to massive insurance fraud, and yet he sits as president of a board that makes decisions about millions of Alabama taxpayer dollars.
And remember, these are not just allegations. A federal jury in Philadelphia voted guilty on all 135 counts in the Stewart case, and Bryant's firm clearly was involved in a "wire fraud scheme" to "inflate the values" of various insurance companies. Many Americans wound up with worthless policies, as a result.
My question is this: Will The Birmingham News act on reports of criminal activity that it receives--on actions taking place right under your nose?
You are saying that someone should have brought attention to the wrongful acts of Jerry Sandusky? And I can't argue with that. But what about the wrongful acts of Paul Bryant Jr.? Are you going to sit on your hands about those? Are you going to exhibit the very behavior for which you batter Joe Paterno and others at Penn State?
I have no problem with anyone pointing out the failings of Penn State officials in the Jerry Sandusky case. Numerous commentators have pointed to Penn State's "insular culture" as a likely reason for the university's poor response to the Sandusky allegations. And they almost surely are right.
But it's important to remember that America is filled with insular cultures. The legal profession is a classic example. So, in many cases, is the press.
What happens when you confront reporters and editors with their own "massive failure of moral leadership"? They become mute.