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What Te'o, Armstrong, and Steubenville Say About the Media Coverage of Paterno/Penn State

It is probably a sad commentary on my life, but few things give me more pleasure than seeing our increasingly corrupt news media be exposed for the fraudulent prostitutes that they are.

This has been a good week for me.

It has also been a productive week for those of us who are trying to open minds that the media was taken for a ride on the fraud/hoax train when it universally bought into a narrative about the Sandusky scandal that makes even less sense than a star linebacker at Notre Dame faking the death of a fictitious girlfriend. After all, one of the biggest hurdles that we face is convincing people that nearly EVERY single member of the news media was completely wrong about what happened.

That job is getting easier almost every day.

In different but similar ways, the three biggest “sports” scandals of this young year all tell us volumes about how and why the media got it so incredibly wrong about Penn State and Joe Paterno’s role in the Sandusky scandal.

First, let’s take the bizarre story of Notre Dame captain Manti Te’o, who was forced to admit that the girlfriend, whose death he famously mourned on the same day as that of his grandmother, never really existed.

While we still don’t know for sure (and may never know) what really happened here, we do know enough to make a few relevant judgments. Obviously the media got a story it loved (star football player overcoming horrible personal tragedy to lead Notre Dame back to national prominence) and went out of their way not to question whether it was actually true.

Now, to be fair, part of that lack of journalism was because they didn’t want to seem rude to a grieving star in the making, but that wasn’t the only reason this fraud was perpetrated.

The media is inherently busy, lazy, gutless, and unimaginative. This is why they so often (like with Penn State) act as one with a serious pack mentality. When you add in that no one wanted the story to be false, then you have yet another perfect storm ripe for a fraudulent outcome. An ESPN reporter who featured the Te’o story has already admitted that he was one of many who didn’t question the story even though he could not even find an obituary for the girlfriend.

The parallels and double standards between the media’s handling of Te’o and Paterno are really quite striking.  

In both cases the media became enamored with a narrative which seemed on the surface to be highly unlikely and ignored a massive amount of information which should have made them at least question that storyline. However, at the same time, it appears that the media has bent over backwards to protect Te’o (ESPN apparently had the story during the entire BCS title game coverage and never mentioned it, deciding instead to treat him as if he went to Syracuse) and give him every possible benefit of the doubt, even after his seemingly ludicrous cover story has exploded before the nation’s eyes.

Why is this? Well, first of all, the media doesn’t like to admit it was duped and then upstaged by a website best known for naked pictures of Brett Favre. Secondly, Te’o could still have a long career ahead of him and therefore could still be useful to them. Finally, there doesn’t seem to be a real victim here for them to get really angry about and Te’o’s college career is already over.

These factors and others have created the strange circumstances where a college kid we know almost nothing about is getting far more benefit of the doubt over a relatively trivial matter, than a man who had coached successfully for 61 years without a hint of scandal got involving a situation which was about as serious as it gets.

It is also important to note the remarkable lack of imagination, introspection or curiosity on the part of the media here.

They now have to accept that it was possible for a star football player to almost win the Heisman Trophy while faking the death of a fake girlfriend, and yet to them it is somehow still “crazy” to think that Mike McQueary’s inconsistent, nonsensical testimony about a ten year old, three-second scene in a shower might have been manipulated or misunderstood? Similarly, we now have to believe that Te’o was just duped by a fake girlfriend for three years and yet Penn State couldn’t have just been fooled by a pedophile that got away with it for 30?

Seriously?! And we are the “crazy” ones here?

Ironically, I think there is actually a scenario where what happened to Te’o is remarkably similar to what occurred with Mike McQueary. I think it is quite plausible that both found themselves in situations that they never imagined, got locked into a story that they knew wasn’t true, and then out of fear and pursuit of self interest decided to exaggerate it rather than recant.

Finally, there is the issue of Notre Dame completely backing Te’o entirely implausible story. After seeing the Notre Dame AD’s bizarre press conference, I am sure that many Penn Staters had to immediately think of how their former president Graham Spanier was instantly raked over the coals and forced out of his job after he totally supported Tim Curley and Gary Schultz when the evidence was exponentially more on the side of their veracity than that of Te’o’s.

Then there is the much-hyped Lance Armstrong cheating “confession.”

I get a particular joy out of this downfall for several reasons. First, I have been saying for many years that Armstrong had to be doping and that it was patently obvious. But more importantly, there is a really remarkable connection between members of the media who got the most bamboozled by Armstrong and those who were hardest on Paterno.

It can not be a mere coincidence that Armstrong’s three biggest media defenders, even after he was obviously going down, were Sally Jenkins, Buzz Bissinger and Rick Reilly, when those three were also among the very most vitriolic (and inaccurate) critics of Paterno.

While I am personally most connected to the dreadful human being that is Buzz Bissinger (because, among other things, his profanity-laced attack on me led to FCC complaints and his leaving talk radio), I actually have a great story about Sally Jenkins on this front.

Jenkins, who strangely was given the last interview Paterno ever did before turning on him in an extreme manner, held a cyber chat back in 2008 to discuss the book she co-wrote with Lance Armstrong. I happened to participate in it and I essentially asked her this question: “Is it possible that Armstrong built his Livestrong charity in part because he knew that as a cheater he would eventually get questioned about it and he wanted to create a base of political support and several layers of political correctness protection as a defense against future attacks?”

The answer Jenkins gave, almost word for word, was, “That is the most cynical and absurd thing I have ever heard in my entire career.”

As it turns out, I was, if not dead on, far more correct about what was really going on with the subject of her book than Jenkins was (and I had never even met Armstrong). And yet, even though Armstrong lied to her constantly for years, Jenkins still has not unleashed nearly the same venom on him that she did on Paterno because she somehow determined he “lied” to her once based on an incredibly vague email that was written by someone else and which doesn’t even mention his name.

This dichotomy of burden of proof is so dramatic that, in my view, it has to be somehow based in something deeply psychological rather than be merely circumstantial.

Obviously, much as with Te’o, the media desperately wanted the Armstong story (cancer surviving philanthropist dominates a sport of cheaters without cheating) to be true and they fought tooth and nail for him until Armstrong literally had to tell them to give up by “confessing” (isn’t it interesting that many in the media wouldn’t convict Armstrong until he confessed, and yet didn’t care that Paterno always maintained his innocence?).

Similarly, the media so fell in love with the Paterno downfall narrative that almost nothing was going to allow them to let go of it, especially once they became so committed to it that their perceived credibility was then permanently attached to that storyline being seen as not only true, but universally unquestioned.

Of course, I have always taken the opposite view of where the burden of proof should lie in the Sandusky scandal. When I look at the scenario the media wants us to believe happened at Penn State my reaction is to say, “Okay, that’s pretty wild stuff. You better have a boatload of evidence to back up that crazy theory.”

One of the most maddening aspects (of many) of the how the media has handled the Penn State story is that you are considered by them to be “nuts” if you don’t accept the conventional wisdom. Making this concept particularly galling is that the “Conventional Wisdom” scenario is one that makes absolutely no sense and for which there is shockingly little evidence.

So we end up with the bizarre spectacle of the same members of the media who defended Armstrong despite a mountain of circumstantial evidence which fit a guilt narrative which was based in sound logic, destroying Paterno despite the fact that there wasn’t even a remotely plausible motive for him to have done the alleged misdeeds for which there is almost no evidence he committed.

Finally, there are stunning similarities between how the media has handled the Penn State story and the so called “Steubenville Rape Case” which revolves around several players on the vaunted “Big Red” football team allegedly being involved in some sort of sexual assault.

In maybe the most incredible coincidences of a life that has seen many, my connection to the Steubenville story is actually stronger than that of the Penn State saga. I covered the team for two years as a TV sportscaster at the NBC affiliate in Steubenville and then spent an entire calendar year with their current coach so that I could write a book called, “Dynasty at the Crossroads” (which, ironically, was the first time I had contact with Buzz Bissinger).

Since the story broke nationally in December (four months after the event happened, which is the first sign a story is probably not being portrayed accurately), I have been in very close contact with the coach advising him on how to handle the media in this situation. I even traveled to Steubenville for several days to meet with him and plot strategy and did a national TV appearance and a local newspaper column to discuss how the media blew it here. Because of this I will refrain from commenting too deeply at this time.

However, you should know that in seeing the media up close try all the same tactics they used from their Penn State playbook has further strengthened by confidence that we are right about how wrong they were on the Sandusky story.

In the Steubenville case the media (including the New York Times and Deadspin) has completely concocted a cover up narrative which simply didn’t happen and, much like with Penn State, doesn’t even pass the basic test to even theoretically qualify as a cover up. Even more shockingly, the mainstream media has even used anonymous, masked, law-breaking, internet hackers who have told numerous monstrous lies in this case as prime sources or false and grossly misleading information!

I don’t know what the final outcome there will be, but watching the Penn State saga unfold again before my eyes in slow motion has truly been a surreal experience. While far from a certainty, I fear that the coach, who is remarkably similar to Paterno in many ways, may end up being thrown under the bus by cowardly board members who are intimidated by an out of control media.

I do know however that I am even more sure than ever that the media, as proven by Te’o, Armstrong, and Steubenville, is simply not to be trusted on any story where they become enamored with the narrative and is particularly vulnerable to being completely fooled on a “perfect storm” story like the Sandusky scandal.

In other words, I was always confident that we were correct, but the events of the past couple of weeks have made me morally certain of it. Unlike with Sally Jenkins and Buzz Bissinger, that doesn’t happen unless I am right.