Trials in the Time of Twitter, Trolls and Talking Heads

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?

13 thoughts on “Trials in the Time of Twitter, Trolls and Talking Heads

  1. I am just very glad I do not have to listen to talking heads. I do follow a few articles but it is nice to be far away right now. I just hope you are right. What all of us seek is the truth. And I hope it prevails.

    Like

  2. Thank you for another beautiful peice. It’s incredible how vile and hateful people can be when they so clearly know very little about what they are preaching. It’s been a rough week–and it’s going to continue to be a tough road, but the truth will be revealed and the hopefully, the idiots will be silenced. 😉

    Like

  3. Stacie, the idiots will never be silenced but they will be marginalized. I believe that Coach Paterno told us everything he knew, and everything he didn’t know, before he died. He never claimed to be a perfect man, but he always was an honest man. I’m so glad to see Duke’s Coach K. speak out forcefully on Joe’s behalf. The tide is with us and the blowhards will be exposed. Keep the faith . . .

    Like

    1. Yes. They (oh, excuse me–he wasn’t speaking for the board) don’t know when to keep their mouths shut do they? They really do not have Penn State’s best interests in mind–ever. It’s all about covering their own tails. I sincerely hope their role in this fiasco is revealed soon.

      Like

  4. I really believe that when we look back on all of this with some informed perspective 3 things will stand out: Jerry Sandusky should never have been involved with “mentoring” young boys. The Second Mile, high schools, law enforcement agencies and Penn State administrators all were too willing to give him a pass. And the Board of Trustees totally mishandled every facet of this crises.

    Like

  5. Well said Gary. Your comment above about the 3 things that stand out is right on point. I have always believed that these talking heads are “haters”, Penn State Haters, Joe Paterno haters, etc. What they spew out and call journalism is just pathetic. They pretend to know the truth and pass judgement long before the facts of the case are even known. I keep going back to what one of Joe’s players (Justin Kurpeikas) said in “The Joe We Know”. He said tht he no longer cares about what the critics say, that they are just “haters” and never liked Penn State and never will, that they will use a situation like this to “pile on”, that they know nothing about Joe or Penn State, that Joe was our coach and mentor, that Penn State is our university, that what they say is irrelevant, WE KNOW THE TRUTH. For those that have not seen this program, I HIGHLY recommend you try and watch it. I keep watching it over and over again because it tells you just how amazing Joe was. When all is said and done, the truth will prevail. That is all we have ever asked for, and so did Joe.

    Like

    1. Michael, I couldn’t agree with you more. Thanks for reminding us that “The Joe We Know” is the real story. 60 years of character counts.

      Like

  6. Another great blog post, Gary. RIP the truly fair, balanced, & fact-checked press. It died long ago when “first” trumps “accurate.” Quantity over quality. Today, news has to be controversial or it doesn’t register. But, it’s still a “supply-demand” proposition. If there wasn’t a large audience wanting to be entertained with sensational reporting then it wouldn’t be so popular. Ultimately, though, I, as should we all, do not give a s*&t what others think of the University or Joe Paterno. This tragic episode is a black mark, for sure. Children and families were badly harmed. The University leadership was exposed as secretive and inept. Characters and reputations sacrificed for yellow journalism glory.

    But, it has also galvanized our Penn State community. The real PSU. The institution and values we know to be true…and righteous. And from tragedy will come triumph. Hopefully, the most important lesson was learned, that is the obligation to protect children from predators. And hopefully PSU will lead the charge in this difficult pursuit.

    Now, that through the advocacy and good work of PS4RS, we have newly elected BoT members to begin the real reformation that is so desparately needed.

    Despite the sad state of journalism and even the legal system, the truth will come out. Just don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t soothe the wild beasts. It’s not about the truth.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s