Scandal Now Common; Reactions Detach From Reality

Today’s Courier Herald Column

Scandals are peculiar events. They usually begin with a certain shock value, and then will often continue so long as there remains a prurient or titillating interest for the event and response to remain in the public eye. They are not pleasant for the subject of the scandal, nor most who know them. Others, tangential players and innocent bystanders, are often drawn into the public eye unexpectedly from their previously private lives.

The frequency of scandal combined with a 24 hour news cycle has desensitized many to the elements of the personal tragedies, and the reactions for many are now counterintuitive. Supporters now rush to defend the scandalized, and a victimhood mentality, timely deployed, can at least temporarily inoculate the one at the center of the scandal.

Herman Cain has been living several weeks of the perfectly modern scandal cycle. The story seems all too familiar, yet the players and their unique reactions make each predictable event seem fresh. Charges are made, denials are issued, facts are presented that cast doubt on all sides, and a feeding frenzy ensues. After a week or so, the underlying charges seem to fade from importance. It’s no longer about victims in the workplace or the falsely accused. The story has become the story itself.

Lost in this scandal is the underlying subject matter. There are victims in the case of sexual harassment. They are the ones who are just trying to earn a living and having that compromised by those who would abuse position for their personal gratification. There are also victims of those who file false charges. They are the ones when the cameras go away who are not given directions on where to go to get their reputation back. In a feeding frenzy, none of that matters. The innocent and the guilty are mostly lost to the event.

More striking is the case of Penn State University, and the firing of their President and the winningest coach in all of college football, Joe Paterno. It appears that Paterno and many others at the University knew that a former coach, Jerry Sandusky, had been molesting young boys in the athletic facilities on campus. A Graduate Assistant had witnessed one act, and reported it directly to Paterno. Paterno reported it up the school’s administrative food chain, but otherwise did nothing, while Sandusky continued his all access privileges to the school.

Outrage simmered throughout the week as facts continued to be revealed. Paterno announced his retirement at season’s end on Wednesday afternoon, attempting to ease his way out and possibly preempt his firing. It was unsuccessful. Paterno and President Graham Spanier were fired Wednesday evening. Given the innocence and childhood that were stolen from boys that could have been helped or saved from abuse had they acted promptly and actively, firings seemed like a good first start to most outside observers.

Yet to supporters of JoePa, he too is yet another victim in the age of the scandal. Students gathered in protest, with some turning violent. A news truck was turned over, with tensions remaining tight into the evening. The pictures coming out of Penn State weren’t about college students outraged that boys – some whom are now likely their peers and possibly even classmates – were raped by a man their school had employed, whose parents had trusted into their school’s care. No. They just wanted Paterno to continue his win streak. A winning record seemed more important than the lost victims at Penn State Wednesday night. It was a sad day for Penn State, for sports, and for humanity.

Regardless of the circumstance, the ability to keep perspective when winning is an option continues to cloud everyday lives. There is a fine line between supporting someone being attacked unfairly and turning a blind eye to transgressions of someone you are closely aligned with and respect. Cain’s supporters can still make the case they are on the proper side of that line. Paterno’s supporters should quickly check their priorities.


  1. saltycracker says:

    Next you’ll be suggesting some level of ethics with our public servants involving ineligibilty/dismissal when pending/convicted for tax evasion or fraud or failure to pay loans/mortgages or child support or student loans or felonous activity or having bad credit.

  2. Clay says:

    Dang Charlie, You smacked another one out of the park. We dismiss the fact that a monster did terrible things to children that could not defend themselves and by many accounts was just given a pass. He should have been in jail years ago and Joe Pa should have retired as well. Now he goes out as damaged goods. Buh Bye Joe.

  3. bowersville says:

    The weird happenings continue.

    The District Attorney, Ray Griar, that investigated allegations against Sandusky in 1998 and chose not to prosecute disappeared in 2005 and has been declared legally dead.

  4. John Konop says:

    Grand Jury Report!

    After reading the Grand Jury report I am sure most of you will conclude that Joe P and company should be in prison not running a football program and or a University. I warn you this report is very disturbing and graphic. I am shocked how anyone can ever defend the legacy of Joe P after reading this report. What Joe P and company did at PSU makes the infraction at places like OSU, SMU….look like jay walking. Law enforcement, civil attorneys and the NCAA should make an example of the people involved and the University to send a message that covering up and turning a blind eye to a sexual predator is unacceptable. NO EXCUSES BOTTOM LINE!

    • saltycracker says:

      When/if found culpable – All of these guys are eligible for some lucrative state pensions, health benefits and have substantial net worths – any consequences there ? Such as victims lawsuits or the state ending payments and/or filing suit for the amount for defamation of the university ?

      • John Konop says:

        I am not a lawyer, but like the catholic church it would seem all involved would be liable. And if any of them had “ethic clauses” in their contract with the state this would be a great example as you pointed out.

        • saltycracker says:

          Found a synopsis – Looks like it’ll take a civil suit unless it is considered related to using their position.

          Wonder how those monthly teacher/student arrests & firings in GA effect their pensions & benefits as the crime isn’t against the system.

          “Georgia law provides for forfeiture of benefits for employees convicted of crimes specifically related to office holding and drugs. The law applies to employees hired on and after July 1, 1985.”

          “Pennslyvania: A public employee convicted of using his or her position or office to commit a crime relating to theft, bribery, forgery, perjury, etc. forfeits their right to receive the employer-funded portion of their public pension benefit. Such employees may receive their contributions, without interest, and contributions may be reduced to pay fines and make restitution associated with their conviction.”

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