Amollo: Media bears some blame for Penn State scandal, too

Benson Amollo

We have a problem. While the gulf between the rich and the poor runs deeper than we would anticipate, the selective amnesia with which the media conducts its vanguard role over society must at least worry those who care. The mainstream media seem to have sworn, for the most part, to guard the affairs of the powerful at the expense of the poor and the most vulnerable of society.

This might seem like the rant of a disillusioned progressive or the last reflections of a disappointed man. If only that were so. There is empirical truth to the gaping realities at the heart of our society. In the case of Joe Paterno and Penn State University, nothing can more justify that feeling of dejection.

The powerful accusations of sexual abuse of young boys against Penn State’s former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky are troubling. But above all, this is a classic case of selective amnesia. While it is now clear that the university abated the heinous molestation of these young Americans, one cannot help question the long stretch of absence displayed by the media over the course of time. Where was the national press all the while? How come a matter that had been brought to the attention of law enforcement from the onset never arrived in the court of public opinion for which the media is the conveyor belt? Why did we let down innocent children whose dreams have now been subjected to a jolt?

As these and many more questions rent the curiosity of a probing public, we are now subjected to an obsessive feed by the media on the news, almost suggesting that it broke a golden find. The news cycle is awash with interviews of persons allied to the scandal in one way or the other, yet to hide its guilt in the whole affair, the national media has ignored the real subject: the victims. We’ve been witness to a continued glorification of football, Paterno and his accomplices, among them Sandusky and ousted Penn State President Graham Spanier, by a media that had been wholly absent from the news at a time when the orgy could have been curbed.

When ABC’s George Stephanopoulos recently interviewed a mother of one of the victims, the feeling of betrayal was raw in her voice. A mother had been let down not just by her country, but by those she had entrusted the most — including the media. It is the harsh betrayal in this case that calls to question whether trust has entirely died. The media pays the most attention to “mediocre” issues ranging from lying politicians to philandering partners, whom they immediately let off the hook.

It is worrying that as the Penn State gang continues to enjoy the media glare, the victims are jostling to be heard. Their voices have been muted and no one seems really bothered by what they are going through. Yet, we are talking about young men whose promising futures had been cruelly snatched from them by persons who belong in the old boys’ network in which impunity is a definitive benefit. Few wonder how Sandusky, facing such serious accusations, is out on cash bail living a normal life. Who will speak up for the weak?

There was indeed a longer-than-usual cover-up of the wrecking of the boys by a conniving academic institution (or is Penn State just a football stadium?), but the most fallible player in this deflection is the media. A media that helps feed America’s football obsession, in never-disappointing measure, should have known what the right thing to do was. Football, a huge income earner for colleges and the American economy in general, should not and ought not to have loomed large over society’s moral fabric even as loose-hanging that fabric might be.

In the case of the victims we are talking about people whose hopes of conquering their dreams have been dwarfed, how are they ever going to seek high-profile positions such as public office with this psychological smear that will be used against them? Suppose someone like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama had been victims of such defiling, would we be talking about them in the length and breadth that we do?

Where are the good old days of muckraking? Wasn’t it a glorified act by a committed press that ushered in Watergate and saw a society stand up to what could have been a sorry end? Why is the U.S. mainstream press, which also claims strong commitments to ethical etiquette, playing to the tunes of the powerful? Is it just enough to hinge all this on media ownership and influence? It is utterly wounding to witness the continued marginalization of the helpless by their last best hope: the media.