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Day: November 11, 2011

Just when did we hand over the keys to our moral compasses to the media?

In 2005 I left university with a degree in Journalism. So many people dream about being a journalist and breaking the big news, doing the background research, being the first with the news. It is a something that so many young people strive for. Journalism in one of the most over-subscribed courses at universities in this country but yet the reality is different and so many lose their way over time.

As anyone who has read anything from me in the past week with know the biggest issue in my life has been the Penn State child sexual abuse scandal with particular reference to how the media have treated Joe Paterno – an 84 year-old man not accused of either sexually abusing boys nor of trying to cover it up. Other people are accused of such crimes but Paterno is not. However the media fallout has left me ever-so deeply troubled.

There are so many fine writers and journalists over in the States but in the past week they have thrown out notion of being fair and reasoned and declared a witch hunt. They couldn’t see the big picture and had a target in mind – a target deep down many of them had been hoping would slip up so they could attack him. They had no idea how it would end but they were always going to be vultures when it did end.

Thankfully one respected journalist put his head above a parapet and wrote arguably the first fair and reasoned report of the whole situation. That man was Joe Posnanski. His piece The End of Joe Paterno sums up so many of my feelings towards the way the media have acted. I urge people to go and read it but should they chose not to then I shall highlight some of what I believe are the most pertinent pieces:

I have seen some things in the last few days that have felt rotten, utterly wrong — a piling on that goes even beyond excessive, a dancing on the grave that makes me ill. Joe Paterno has lived a whole life. He has improved the lives of countless people. I know — I’ve talked to hundreds of them. Almost every day I walk by the library that he and his wife, Sue, built. I walk by the religious center that tries to bring people together, and his name is on the list of major donors. I hear the stories, the countless stories, of the kindnesses that came naturally to him, of the way he stuck with people in their worst moments, of the belief he had that everybody could do a little bit better — as a football player, as a student, as a human being. I’m not going to tell you these stories now, because you can’t hear them. Nobody can hear them in the howling.

A recollection of all the good this man has done. The last line though sums everything up. No-one wants to hear the full story because what is at the forefront of people’s minds are the allegations made against a former coach of his.

We are in a top-you world where everyone is not only trying to report something faster but is also trying to report something ANGRIER. One guy wants Joe Paterno to resign, the next wants him to be fired, the next wants him to be fired this minute, the next wants him to be fired and arrested, the next wants him to be fired, arrested and jailed, on and on, until we’ve lost sight of who actually committed the crimes here.

This is without even a shadow of a doubt a very accurate point. Being balanced and fair is not the world we live in any more unfortunately. We live in a world where we want instant justice and instant answers and make instant judgements. We don’t want to wait for evidence we just want to pile on and if you don’t pile on enough then the feeling is that you are defending a man who is indefensible. The men accused of these crimes are not mentioned and will get their day in court to defend themselves but because the media can’t hound them then they need a scapegoat. Any major story needs a scapegoat and in this instance it was the man dubbed ‘Saint Joe’ and when the mighty fall then everyone rejoices.

I think the University could not possibly have handled this worse. It was disgusting and disgraceful, the method in which they fired Joe Paterno after 60 years of service, and yes, I do think Paterno was a scapegoat. Of course he was. I’ve already said that he had to be let go. But to let him dangle out there, take up all the headlines, face the bulk of the media pressure, absolutely, that’s the very definition of scapegoat. Three people were indicted and arrested. A fourth, I hear, will be indicted soon. Joe Paterno is not one of the four.

The university have handled this situation worse than any organisation has ever handled a scandal in my lifetime. We don’t know exactly who knew what and when but we do know what has happened since the indictments were handed down by the Grand Jury on Saturday. Instead of calling an emergency meeting of the Board of Trustees and trying to get answers the Board of Trustees didn’t meet until Wednesday. The university President said that the two men still on staff who were indicted had his ‘unconditional support’ until two days later they were both placed on administrative leave.

On Tuesday when Joe Paterno was due to meet with the media this Press Conference was cancelled minutes before by the President of the university. Joe Paterno was happy to talk about the case but the President fearing Joe may say something that made the university liable to civil claims pulled the plug. Instead of dealing with the situation they left the situation to bulge and the more silence there was the more media airtime got devoted to the story.

Then on Wednesday they forged the President to resign and fired Joe Paterno. When asked why they fired him the Board of Trustees spokesman said ‘we don’t have any of the facts yet’ but yet they fired him anyway. Joe Paterno as I understand it has tenure at Penn State and can only be fired for gross misconduct. What he has or hasn’t done it certainly would not constitute gross misconduct therefore if Paterno really wanted to he could sue the university for unfair dismissal. He won’t but he could. This is the reason Mike McQueary is still on the staff – they can’t fire him for anything he’s done wrong – so firing him would be unlawful.

Posnanski refers to a possible fourth indictment coming and that it will not be against Paterno. I doubt very much it is McQueary so logically it will be the now former President of the university Graham Spanier. If that indictment does come down then it is likely the Grand Jury has evidence that Tim Curley and Graham Schultz went to the President with news of the 2002 allegation but Spanier helped cover it up. That would be my guess anyway.

It is still unclear what Paterno did in this case. It will remain unclear for a while. You might be one of the hundreds and hundreds of people I’ve heard from who know EXACTLY what Paterno did. He HAD to know this. He DEFINITELY knew that. He COULD have done something. I respect that. Joe Paterno’s a public figure. You have every right to believe what you want to believe and be absolutely certain about it. But since we have not heard from Joe, not heard from former athletic director Tim Curley, not heard from GA/assistant coach Mike McQueary, not heard from anyone who was in the room, I’ll repeat: It’s unclear. A determined grand jury did not charge Joe Paterno with any crime. A motivated reporting barrage, so far, anyway, has not uncovered a single thing that can tell us definitively what Joe Paterno knew.

This is the final piece of the story I shall quote. We do not know what Joe Paterno knew or didn’t know. We don’t know. However listening to the talking heads and reading the scribes from all over the country (and in pieces here in the UK) I have come to the understanding that in fact all these journalists have been privately briefed about everything and they know the full story. It would be nice if they could let us schmoes into the club to find out the truth. Printing the truth based on one half of the story is a very dangerous thing indeed.

Still nearly 1,500 words into this blog those that are still reading might be thinking ‘but what has this got to do with either a) the media or b) the media in the UK?’ well don’t fret that is coming up next.

When a bandwagon or witch hunt gets rolling it is extremely difficult to stop. The media in this case I have referred to have barrel rolled into the story and have had targets all along. Now Paterno is out that has shifted on to Mike McQueary. It is just the way the media want. They want to conduct a court of public opinion where they are judge and jury but the problem is the judge and jury aren’t looking at what is right or wrong instead they are looking at what shifts most newspapers, what makes more listeners tune in, what makes more viewers watch and in a selfish sense what makes them look best. A journalist coming out and saying ‘let’s wait for all the facts’ will not be looked upon favourably because that isn’t what makes money. Being reactionary and sensationalist makes the money.

In the UK we saw the case of Christopher Jefferies who was wrongfully arrested on suspicion of the murder of Jo Yeates. The case encapsulated the media because of the circumstances, pretty blonde girl, found dead on Christmas morning in the snow, boyfriend already had an alibi, it was the perfect storm for the media. There is usually very little news around Christmas so the story and the case took on a life of it’s own. When Jefferies was arrested the court of public opinion driven by the media had proclaimed him guilty and that was that.

A funny thing happened on the way to the police proving his guilt though – they proved his innocence and in fact had already identified another suspect – one who you know – actually did the crime. That was a few weeks later though and the media were rabid in their lust for swift justice whether it was right or wrong. They wanted (nee: needed) a guilty party and when the police decided to arrest Jefferies on a tip-off that was it. He was guilty for all to see.

He has slowly got his life back together but how do you piece together your life against everyone has been told what an awful human being you are by the media? It can’t be easy. Earlier this month he spoke on BBC Radio 4, “It has taken up a whole year virtually of my life, that period of time has meant that everything else that I would normally be doing has been in abeyance.

“But, fortunately, I think I’m approaching the point at which I can start to take up the reins from the end of last year.”

Mr Jefferies accepted an apology and “substantial” libel damages from the Sun, Mirror, Sunday Mirror, Daily Mail, Daily Record, Daily Express, Daily Star and the Scotsman for their coverage after his arrest. So that was what eight national newspapers who essentially printed lies about him. Did these newspapers print these lies because they secretly hated him? No they didn’t. They printed these lies because they knew it would sell newspapers. That is all anyone cares about in this industry – making money. If the truth doesn’t sell then the truth can be buried.

Look at John Charles De Menezes. When that tragic event first happened the newspapers were all saying he was a terrorist who was involved in a long chase with police nd then jumped over some tube barriers in attempt to try and get away from them and cause terror to the people of London. However again this wasn’t the truth. This was the truth using just one half of the story – the police’s at the time – and that was enough. It was only when it came out that the police were making the whole thing up did the newspapers investigate and report it properly because the truth with both sides of the story sold even more newspapers.

Having dipped my toe into Journalism I can say with no qualms that I prefer to sit on the outside where I am free to both think and to write how I please. I have always looked at every story with scepticism unless both sides of the story are out in the open. Almost everybody has a bias on almost every single issue no matter how large or small. It is just human nature. So when only one side of the story is out then that bias will be inflated even more.

I urge people to always try their best to look at everything reported at the media with a backwards step approach to try and see the real story. It is how I work and it enables me to go against the seemingly unstoppable runaway freight train that is the media when they get on their high horse. Not everything we hear in the media is true nor is it even accurate. A lot of it is but the bottom line for the print media will always be the profit margins. How many newspapers would swear allegiance to the the BNP if this country became a racist stronghold and the profits were to be made from being a BNP backer? More than you think is my fair guess.

Make up your own minds people. Don’t let the media ever tell you what to think or how to act. We all have it inside of us to have our own moral compass and to act and behave like we believe is right. If a newspaper tells you that your neighbour fiddles kids and they are wrong but you’ve gone and bludgeoned them to death for being evil then the newspapers won’t be prosecuted for murder – you will be.

The media have become too big and too unregulated. I love a free press and it is one of the greatest things about the western world but the freedom of the press also allows the press to dictate the feeling and the mood of the people. It also allows them to spread lies and untruths should they so desire and many do in the hope that it will make them more money. Stopping them will not be easy but it is something that needs to be done or else more innocent lives will be harmed by the media and yet again the media themselves won’t suffer any consequences except for money – and often the money they pay out in damages is more than covered by the extra profits they make by printing scurrilous stories.

It is a sad day when you can’t trust the media to reflect the mood of the people but that is the age we live in. The media drive the story and they’ll drive it to whichever stop they deem fit and they do it time and time and time again and that my friends just isn’t right.

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