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What The Media Coverage of the Boston Bombings Tells Us About PSU/Sandusky

I am a big believer that, if you look closely enough, the truth will almost always eventually reveal itself, even if it ends up happening in unusual ways. Such is how I see the media coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings when it comes to evaluating the legitimacy (or lack thereof) of how the media reacted to Penn State’s “role” in the Jerry Sandusky scandal, as well as an important element of what actually happened in that case.

I realize that to many, such a connection may seem, at least at first, like a stretch. However, a closer examination reveals remarkable parallels between the two situations.

The first, and perhaps most important, comparison is between the way the news media has handled the massive amount of evidence that numerous law enforcement agencies “knew” about the suspicious activities of the older brother Tamerlan, in contrast with how passionately it brought out the pitch forks and torches when it came to evaluating similar allegations Penn State “knew” about Sandusky.

There is no question that, at least to this point, the news media has decided to report on this information without venom or with any need to rush to judgment. It has been over a week after this basic information was made public and yet no one has called for anyone to be fired. Instead, it is likely to be “reported” and then allowed to fade away as the issue will be seen as “partisan” since Republicans will be perceived as trying to win political points against President Obama’s administration and Democrats will generally want the subject to go away as fast as possible.

Let’s be clear on what apparently happened here. The Russian intelligence agency, on multiple occasions, warned the FBI and CIA about why they thought Tamerlan might be a terrorist, and yet despite the FBI interviewing him directly, almost nothing was done to stop him from eventually committing horrible crimes.

Gee, why does such an allegation seem so familiar?

It isn’t difficult to replace a few names and see that the circumstances are remarkably similar to what Penn State was accused of. The biggest difference of course is that Penn State (and especially Joe Paterno) took what Mike McQueary reported about a two second glimpse of Sandusky through a bathroom mirror far more seriously than the FBI and CIA apparently took multiple warnings from the Russian government that Tamerlan could be a terrorist.

The other difference of course was that the media decided in the Penn State case to immediately presume guilt and seek out instant and full punishment, even though no one died. Meanwhile they have decided to be far more reserved in their judgment with regard to whether the FBI is responsible for four deaths and dozens of maimings.

To be clear, I actually think that the media condemning someone based on nothing but 20/20 hindsight is wrong. But it is even worse for the media to selectively attack someone via 20./20 hindsight based on what best fits their agenda at that particular moment. In my rather educated opinion, that is exactly what happened to Penn State in the Sandusky case, and the media reaction to the FBI story basically proves it.

This leads me to my second “revelation” from the media coverage of the bombings.

I find it rather humorous that, thanks to the horrendous on the spot reporting of recent tragedies, it has now almost become universally accepted that “initial reports” will end up being inaccurate. What is particularly maddening however is that no one has ever thought to put this rule into play with regard to what happened to Penn State’s handling of Sandusky.

Here is what I mean by this incredibly vital point. Let’s take the infamous misreporting of CNN’s John King who claimed dramatically and emphatically that authorities had “arrested” a “dark skinned male,” well before anyone in charge even knew what the suspects names were.

After having spoken to more people closer to this case (including Sandusky himself for over three and a half hours) than perhaps anyone not directly involved in it, I have come to think of Mike McQueary as being very much like the source for the report of John King (who you might think of as a far less responsible Joe Paterno in this analogy). He thinks he has good information, he believes he is doing the right thing, he would even eventually be “right,” but in this particular situation he turned out to be dead wrong.

In my scenario, McQueary is nothing more than the notoriously unreliable initial reporter. All he has to go on are some sounds he thought may have indicated some sort of sex was going on, and then a two second long limited glimpse through a mirror. He didn’t even have any contact with either Sandusky or the boy (both of them are on record saying they never even knew McQueary was there).

When he speaks to Paterno the next day, it almost doesn’t matter what he tells him because Paterno did exactly the right thing under the circumstances. Unlike John King who rushed to give the world false information, Paterno quietly passed it to his technical superior, athletic director, Tim Curley and let him look into it. And guess what Curley then did…. He did an actual investigation.

Curley was the only person in the loop who knew something of the 1998 "unfounded” allegation against Sandusky, and who also spoke to McQueary, Paterno, Gary Schultz, the head of the Second Mile, and, most importantly, Jerry Sandusky himself. Even though he was not in the shower that night (technically neither was McQueary), he actually had more information than anyone else about the situation. He also had enough to evidence to (I strongly believe) correctly conclude that nothing criminal happened at that time. And contrary to conventional wisdom, that conclusion, while highly unfortunate based on all that we know now, was, based on the current evidence, actually absolutely accurate.

It is baffling to me that almost everyone (especially in the media) thinks that the most important conversation here was between McQueary and Paterno. I would argue that it was probably the least significant interaction in the entire chain. It was the far more significant Sandusky/Curley discussion that ended up convincing Curley to take the course of action he did.

Having spent three hours with Sandusky in prison and having fully researched and uncovered the real story of the “boy in the shower” that night, I have no problem at all understanding how incredibly persuasive Sandusky must have been in that meeting. He not only knew that he had done nothing “wrong,” but he also knew (as Victim 2’s statement proves) that the “boy in the shower’ was going to back him up. Unfortunately, Curley was so convinced that nothing horrific had happened that he didn’t take Sandusky up on his offer to speak with the boy (perhaps because he thought it would be better if the Second Mile did that, as they were very well acquainted with him). But if he had, the outcome would have clearly been the same, if not even better for Sandusky.

It is pretty obvious from the “after speaking with Joe” email Curley sent after that meeting (which Louis Freeh tried to use to make it seem as if Joe Paterno was leading a nonsensical cover up) that he informed Joe Paterno that he didn’t think this was a matter for the authorities and that he had decided to go with a series of lesser “punishments.” I am even convinced that Curley probably thought that, out of an abundance of caution, he was being rather hard on Sandusky. It is only in retrospect that this decision seems, at best, badly misguided.

But it is very important to remember that the alleged victim in that scenario, said, on the record (ironically the day that Paterno was fired), as a 24 year old, married, former Marine, that nothing sexual happened that night and that Mike McQueary was badly mistaken. It should also be noted that McQueary later told Paterno that he was fine with how the situation had been handled and maintained a very cordial relationship with Sandusky (which is totally consistent with my theory that even McQueary himself had real doubts about what he saw, which remained until nine years later when investigators told him they had victims and they desperately needed him to be their lone witness).

Essentially, what I think happened here is that a sincere but false allegation was levied against an ultimately guilty man and it was correctly overruled in a way that would later make the decision look to be horrendous in retrospect. Which, in a weird way, is a scenario that isn’t all that far off from what happened with John King’s report (it was false that an arrest had been made, but it is clear now that there had been an, ultimately accurate, identification).

The bottom line here is that there is still much to learn about what really happened in the Sandusky scandal and sometimes those lessons can come in the strangest places. I just wish more people, especially in the media, were still paying enough attention to see them.