by Gary Levitt
And so the first week ends. Bellefonte is all a-twitter. And the rest of the country is hanging on every character.
When I was growing up, it was a common movie cliche to show fedora-clad, cigar-chomping reporters rushing out of the courthouse to be first at the pay-phones calling in copy before the afternoon edition’s deadline.
(If you are under 30, you might want to google cigar, pay-phones, afternoon edition, and deadline. I understand that fedoras are back in fashion, but now it is women who wear them.)
Anyway, the prosecution seems to have called all of its witnesses. And everyone who thought Jerry Sandusky was guilty is now sure of it. Everyone who thought Penn State is Sodom and Gomorrah in Central Pennsylvania is now sure of it. Everyone who thought Joe (the Godfather) Paterno was involved in every aspect of this story is now sure of it. Everyone who jumped to conclusions 7 months ago is now jumping to the same conclusions based on . . . what exactly?
When people ask me what I’ve learned this past week, I tell them to ask someone who has actually been in the courtroom. And don’t take a 140-character tweet for an answer.
There is nothing quite like the intensity and focus of a trial where people’s lives are at stake. Every question, every answer, each hesitation, each nuance, the tone of voice, body language, eye contact or lack of it — these are the fragments that ultimately make up a completed mosaic.
How many of you were surprised by the OJ verdict? And remember those proceedings were broadcast live in their entirety. How many of you thought Michael Jackson would surely be convicted? The Duke Lacrosse team prosecution? The McMartins were tried for six years before all charges were dismissed. Casey Anthony? John Edwards? Anyone who tells you they know what is going on in the collective mind of a jury is a fool or a conman.
That brings us to the trolls and the talking heads.
No matter how well-researched, objective, and reasonable an article is, the comment section following will surely be peppered with hate-filled, delusional screeds posted by the usual anonymous suspects. They just want to provoke emotional responses and the game they are playing has little or nothing to do with the subject being discussed. They are annoying but of little consequence.
The talking heads, however, can do real damage. They pretend to know more than we do. They present their suppositions as fact. Their bias as logic. Their ignorance as objectivity. The days when opinion, commentary, and news were clearly labeled are long gone.
To the best of my knowledge, MSNBC’s Chris Mathews, CBS Chicago’s Dan Bernstein, Philadelphia Inquirer’s Phil Sheridan, and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Joe Starkey have not been inside the Bellefonte courtroom. They’ve probably never been inside the Lasch Building or a Penn State locker room either. Yet, this week, each of them delivered sanctimonious lectures to the late Joe Paterno, to Penn State’s athletic department, to all associated in any way with the University, and even to new coach Bill O’Brien.
Each in his own way said the same thing: “I don’t know what in the hell I’m talking about but I have appointed myself judge and jury. And if I distort facts and trample reputations, too bad. Its all about readership and ratings. If a cheap shot works I’ll take it every time!”
Then, there is LaVar Arrington. LaVar has been through the Joe Paterno school of how to be a Man. Lavar played for Jerry Sandusky and occasionally found himself in Joe’s doghouse. After his All-American Penn State career, he went on to be an All-Pro with the Washington Redskins. And he is now a very popular DC talk show host. When he realized that alleged Victim Four was a kid he knew, this how he reacted:
“As the son of a teacher … I wanted to be a child counselor. Twenty-twenty hindsight brings so much more clarity. I will never just wonder why a kid is mad. I will never just assume ever again. I will always ask, and let them know that it’s okay to tell the truth.
My anguish and disappointment doesn’t compare to that of the alleged victims. All I can do is hope that Victim Four finds this entry and can see that I’m offering my sincerest apologies. I am so sorry that this happened.”
Then, one of Linebacker U’s greatest linebackers delivered a hit that leveled the Board of Trustees. It’s a shame, he said, that Coach Paterno will never hear the belated apology that group owes him for their actions on November 9th.
And so the first week comes to a close. Next week the defense makes its case. Then the jury decides whether Jerry Sandusky was a predator or just creepy. Whatever the verdict the trolls and the talking heads will have their say.
But so will Lavar Arrington. And Franco Harris. And Phil Knight. And the Paterno Family. And you and I and the Nittany Nation. Ultimately, the truth will prevail.
I’m good with that. How about you?