Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The rush to judgement at Penn State


Anyone who lives within a hundred miles of Penn State University should exercise extra caution in crossing the street these days, lest they get run roughshod by the stampede to the moral high ground.
Some judicial and journalistic fundamentals have already been trampled in the scandal at Penn State, including the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. The grand jury report accusing former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky of sexually abusing eight young boys and charging two former high-ranking university officials with perjury in an alleged coverup is a damning indictment, but the premature rush to judgement is more than a little unsettling. Media commentators who should know better aren't even bothering to put the charges in their proper legal context anymore. The term "alleged" has become optional, insinuating that the guilt of all parties is a given even though due process has yet to run its course.
What's equally unseemly is that the media crosshairs are fixed more squarely on legendary Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno than they are on the the guy who's actually accused of raping children. There's absolutely no evidence of legal wrongdoing on Paterno's part, but because he's by far the biggest name in the big picture, the scandal has become all about him.
I'm not sure when or how we got to the point where the legacy of a football coach - no matter how iconic - became more of a priority than justice for the victims of a heinous crime, but here we are. Maybe I'M jumping to conclusions, but in this instance, that wouldn't make me any different than anyone else.

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