My Review of the "Costas Tonight" Special on Freeh Report
My disdain for the media is pretty well known. In fact, I doubt anyone as ever been seen by more people on American TV while attacking the hosts of the very shows they were on than me. I am also a pessimist by nature and, because of that, I had low expectations for the "Costas Tonight" special on NBC Sports Network, even though I had spoken to Bob Costas twice about the subject after my interview with Jerry Sandusky.
With all of that understood, I thought that, under the circumstances, the program was exceptionally well done and was by far the best show to date on the issue in the year and a half since the story broke (not that it had much competition for that honor).
Costas was in an obviously very difficult position because of the incredible blow back that any non celebrity (like me) has experienced because they dared to challenge the media's conventional wisdom. While he was the only sportscaster with enough "gravitas" to take this on, it also meant that he had a lot more to lose than anyone else would have.
I knew that he would not be able to be an "advocate" for our cause and that he would have to cover his own ass at least to some significant extent. While both of those predictions turned out to be true, Costas actually expertly (and on purpose I believe) performed these tasks in a way which was actually beneficial to our side. A couple of times he basically set himself up as a straw man while appearing to make the other side's arguments when he was really serving up the Paterno representatives hanging curve balls.
The most amazing part of the show was that Costas actually did a better job at times making the pro-Paterno arguments than the family representatives did. I took particular pride in this aspect because I had spoken with Bob on the phone and exchanged a few emails in an effort to make sure he was educated about the case. It was obvious that he had listened carefully to our conversations and several of the facts we discussed made it onto the program.
However, while watching Costas make some of the same points I have been trying to make for a year made me feel as if all of that hard work had not been totally wasted, I must admit that I was proven wrong in my initial assessments of Costas.
It is St. Louis radio host Kevin Slaten, who is friends with Bob, who really deserves credit for making sure that Costas gave this story a second look. When we first met at the opening Penn State game last year, Kevin told a large dinner gathering at the Nittany Lion Inn that he thought he could turn Costas around. I scoffed at that notion thinking that a big celebrity like him would never risk their standing to take on this fight in any substantive way. Thankfully, I underestimated Costas.
Of course, part of the reason Costas felt safe enough to do this show (he basically admitted this during the broadcast) was that enough time has passed so that the passions surrounding the story are not quite as hot as they once were. Unfortunately, that also means that the impact of the program will be exponentially less than it would have been had it aired when it should have (which would have been impossible because the Freeh Report was released just before the Olympic Games and this hindered Bob's ability to even read it).
It should be noted that Costas was clearly part of the problem back when it really counted (he essentially called for Penn State to get the "death penalty") and it would have been nice if he had overtly admitted that he, like the rest of the media had been duped. It appears that Bob's well placed guilt over what happened here is what has seemingly motivated him to take this on now (though the Catholic in me thinks he committed a mortal sin and now is getting off with a few Hail Marys and an Our Father and without even giving a full confession).
It is probably the greatest testament to the extreme level of "battered subject syndrome" that everyone on our side of this story has experienced that even I am willing to forgive Costas for his past transgressions, but full absolution should not come unless and until he keeps on the story. One of the many problems created by the extreme fragmentation of our media is that it has never been so easy for any outlet to claim they treated a story fairly because, after all, they did report that side of it (even though it was late at night on a network most of the country doesn't even know exists). In this day and age it is not what gets "reported" that matters, it is what gets "repeated" that rules the day, which is why, thanks to ESPN, we are is our current position in this story. For instance, I wish Bob would have forced the rest of the media to "repeat" that Louis Freeh and Mark Emmert dodged being on the program, which should be devastating to their credibility.
In short, had this show somehow been done in conjunction with the Sue Paterno interview immediately after the release of the Freeh Report, I have no doubt that the NCAA would never have been able to get away with what they did. The most interesting evidentiary revelation from tonight's show appears to be that there is some sort of proof of malfeasance on the part of the NCAA and perhaps Penn State in the creation of the consent decree. Given the record speed with which that was done and just how incredibly unimpressive and untrustworthy Mark Emmert appeared to be when Franco Harris and I confronted him, that is something that I have no problem believing. Regardless, the discovery process in the lawsuit should be absolutely fascinating.
I think the bottom line here is that we have left the PR aspect of this war (which, thanks to being completely outgunned, the truth lost very badly), and have now entered the purely legal phase. While it will be great for our side to now at least be able to claim that Bob Costas has seemingly changed his mind, in the view of the public, the story is now essentially dead. Since Scott Paterno has closed off the most obvious/plausible evidentiary path to exoneration for Joe Paterno (the real story of "Victim 2"), only a dramatic decision in a court case will ever make any sort of real impact. I can certainly see that happening in this case.
So, in a sense, the "Costas Tonight" program (and his at least partial conversion) marks an end to one phase of this story and the beginning of a brand new one. Let's hope that the truth fairs better in the second half of this contest than it did in the first.