The mainstream press corps IS Penn State!


The passion of David Gregory: We thought Mark Geragos delivered a much-needed wet blanket on CNN last night.

Anderson Cooper was killing time until he could talk about his two stolen bikes at the end of his program. (With footage of Peewee Herman! Big fun!) That said, his guests were trying to top each other, and everyone else, in their loathing for the events at Penn State. As always, a former prosecutor was showing that she knew how to convict every man in the house.

Eventually, Geragos spread his wet blanket and tried to get folk to sit down:
GERAGOS (11/14/11): I mean, I like, as much as anybody else, enjoy a good old-fashioned media lynching. And that's exactly what we've had here. I mean, is there anybody that gives a presumption of innocence at this point? No.

I think that you've seen a kind of a piling on of a degree that's almost unprecedented...

And you know, a lot of this is so reminiscent, to me personally, of what happened when Michael Jackson was first—the charges were first brought against him. And do you remember, Anderson, all of the talk about sleeping with young boys and everything else, and people saying that in and of itself, to quote your other guest here, that's exactly what they do when they groom people and everything else.

This is deja vu, as Yogi Berra would say, all over again. And he ended up being acquitted. So before we go and we say this is, you know, it's a done deal, so to speak, and we condemn them and everything else, I think maybe we step back and take a deep breath for a second.
We don’t agree that the piling-on here is almost unprecedented. We remember the evening when Geragos scolded the loathsome Nancy Grace for the way she had convicted the late Richard Ricci for the crime of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/2/03).

It turned out Ricci was uninvolved—but he had already died in prison, in part because of Grace’s loathsome behavior. But then, in the past two decades, the lynch mobs have run again and again all through the American “press corps.” The lynch mobs have run with respect to criminal cases. And they have repeatedly stampeded all through our politics too.

For the record, the fact that Jackson was found not guilty doesn’t mean he was factually innocent. For ourselves, we’d be very surprised if it somehow turned out that Jerry Sandusky is an innocent victim in the current matters.

But we agree with what Geragos said next, and his comment involved many more players than Sandusky: “We still live in America. And it's a little disturbing to me, kind of the assumption of guilt here. Because everything that Penn State has done, both to the president and everybody on down, has presumed guilt in this case.”

We agree with that assessment and with that general sentiment. The lynch mobs have been stampeding again, with every pundit eager to declare more outrage, directed at every named player, than every pundit who came before. And this isn’t just on ESPN, where many pundits have exercised very poor judgment. The foolishness has even invaded our most elite preserves.

Consider the suggestion David Gregory made on Meet the Press as he interviewed poor Michele Bachmann. He asked her about the Penn State matter. Last night, Brian Williams had to take up for his friend:
GREGORY (11/13/11): Just, just one more on this. You say it's a state matter. As you know, the Department of Education is looking into this as well, to see if there's an area where federal law applies. Do you think it's a matter for Congress to get involved in? As you know, Congress can look at anything. They did in terms of steroids. They could look at it in terms of, you know, institutional abuse or a conspiracy of silence.

BACHMANN: Well, I think that that's—the pendulum swings, and when something horrific happens people's automatic reaction is somebody needs to do something. But it doesn't necessarily mean that this issue should be kicked up to Congress. I really do believe this needs to stay exactly in the jurisdiction where the offense occurred. Congress has a lot of other things to pay attention to.
It’s hard to turn Bachmann into the sane one, but Gregory managed to do it. But then again, why should this case be taken to Congress? Why not take it to the World Court? Why not go straight to the Hague?

Later, Gregory emoted on the same issue with David Brooks and E. J. Dionne. It’s always bad when Maureen Dowd gets quoted. But we were especially struck by the lack of self-knowledge here:
GREGORY: I want to talk about Penn State, to shift gears to something so horrible and disgusting as the allegations there. And, you know, when I read Maureen Dowd's column this week, it helped to really sort of bring it home to me. She was very tough and, and really go to what is so disturbing about the grand jury report.

This is what she wrote in part, though, criticizing Penn State. “Like the Roman Catholic Church, Penn State is an arrogant institution hiding behind its mystique. And sports, as my former fellow sports columnist at the Washington Star, David Israel, says, is ‘an insular world that protects its own and operates outside of societal norms as long as victories and cash continue to flow bountifully.’ Penn State rakes in $70 million a year from its football program.”

That is what has been alleged to have happened at Penn State, a conspiracy of silence to protect their own.
An insular world that protects its own and operates outside of societal norms?

A conspiracy of silence to protect their own?

Could there be a better description of the way the “press corps” has routinely behaved over the past twenty years? In these basic group dynamics, our press corps is Penn State.

A point of personal privilege:

Each afternoon for several months, we’ve been living in December 1999, reviewing the episode in which the press corps finally branded Candidate Gore a LIAR. It was in that month that the press corps invented a history-changing claim: Al Gore said he discovered Love Canal! In order to concoct this stupid claim, they misquoted Gore three or four different ways. Beyond that, they adopted that mocking paraphrase straight from the RNC, on a word-for-word basis. Their group misconduct was endless. In the process, they established the notion that Gore was a LIAR, a notion which sent George Bush to the White House, thereby transforming world history.

Guess what happened as this disgrace unfolded? David Gregory kept his multimillion-dollar trap shut! So did all his corporate-owned colleagues, including Brooks and Dionne.

And yes, we do mean “all.”

Ceci Connolly and Katharine Seelye behaved like absolute clowns that month. Everyone agreed not to notice—and we do mean “everyone.” Except for a bunch of high schools kids who complained long and hard in New Hampshire, getting mocked by the mainstream "press corps" for their troubles.

There have been many victims of the press corps’ group misconduct over the past twenty years. Because he died after getting thrown into prison, Ricci is a striking example. But that description which Gregory read is a perfect description of the press corps’ conduct during this era. In a wide array of cases, they have covered up for various liars—and most especially, for themselves, after they managed to get themselves conned by these people.

Repeatedly, the press corps has behaved this way, in “a conspiracy of silence to protect their own.”

Last night, poor Brian Williams had to make excuses for his excitable colleague. On Piers Morgan Live, he explained the overwrought conduct displayed on Meet the Press:
WILLIAMS (11/13/11): It's the most disturbing story in so long that we've come across, Piers. I saw it in the eyes of my friend David Gregory who was angry yesterday morning on Meet the Press. He has several children. I'm a father of two. And I recognized what I saw in my friend and colleague David, who is normally a very straight down the middle interviewer, but he couldn't help it.
Poor David! For all the many millions he’s paid, he just couldn’t help it!

We’ll only repeat what we’ve said above. The descriptions cited on Meet the Press represent a perfect description of the press corps’ routine functioning. They have engaged in endless codes of silence to protect their favorites—and to protect their colleagues, themselves. They have covered up for Gennifer Flowers and for Kathleen Willey. They have endlessly covered for Chris Matthews, even when he almost got an innocent journalist killed. They covered for the ludicrous Ceci Connolly. (Jane Mayer explained that her critics were sexists!) They have lied and lied and lied again.

They never tell you the truth.

Despite this record, they’re highly aroused by the group silence of the very bad folk at Penn State. Sorry:

The mainstream press corps is Penn State. You’re just not allowed to know it.

Goofus and Gallant: In this morning’s New York Times, David Brooks talks some sense about the outrage being voiced by our highly self-confident pundits.

“Let’s All Feel Superior,” his headline says. Given what we know about human functioning, Brooks suggests that his colleagues might not have acted in the glorious ways they’re prepared to suppose, had they confronted the ugly events which transpired at Penn State.

Right next to Brooks’ column is Joe Nocera’s. He acts out in precisely the way Brooks quite sensibly challenges.

Concerning chapter 6: Our chapter on Love Canal is taking much longer to finish than we had expected. For the most part, that’s because of the astonishing ways the “press corps” misbehaved. Highlights:

On November 30, 1999, Al Gore told a sensible story to a group of students at Concord High School in Concord, New Hampshire.

On December 1, Connolly and Seelye misquoted Gore in the Post and the Times, saying he has dograndiosely boasted about himself once again. That afternoon, the AP did a report on the growing flap—and they managed to misquote Gore in a second way.

On this same day, the RNC issued a mocking paraphrase of what Gore had supposedly said. (Al Gore said he discovered Love Canal! At this point, the RNC was working from the original Connolly misquotation.) This paraphrase was completely absurd—but the press corps quickly adopted it on a word-for-word basis.

Needless to say, Chris Matthews adopted the RNC's language first. His colleagues raced to catch up.

By December 2, pundits had begun to place the paraphrase inside quotes, thus creating a third misquotation. There was an important fourth misquotation, but we won't burden you here. (These misquotations all resulted from a 240-word story.)

Through the use of videotape, the Connolly/Seelye misquotation was corrected on the December 1 Hardball. But so what? The Post and the Times refused to issue corrections, absurdly claiming that their misquotation hadn’t changed Gore’s meaning. And good God! Major “journalists” just kept repeating the misquotation for the next several months.

There’s much more, but these are the highlights.

Very little of this has ever been reported. It’s a difficult story to tell, due to the sheer volume of the press corps' misconduct.

As this disgraceful conduct transpired, David Gregory kept his trap shut. As for Brian Williams, he broadcast the first misquotation on December 6, five days after it was corrected on Hardball. He didn’t correct himself on the air until December 20. But you have to understand Brian’s problem! You see, he was kissing the ass of Jack Welch at the time—Welch, the man who would make him even more wealthy. Today, he’s very, very upset by the group silence at Penn State.

These are horrible people. And make no mistake:

These people are Penn State.


  1. The media was Penn State when they sat on the illegal spying allegations until after the 2004 elections. That's one example of finding the government in our pants without our consent and instead of reporting the crime as they should the media went home to daddy (NY Times Editor?) and asked him what to do.

    Guess what? Our media would rather cover up the crimes of filthy perverts than do their jobs.

  2. Gore was the school dork and he was teased in ways that the other kids weren't. It wasn't fair.

    I used to be outraged by this media's repeating story about the cool kids picking on the dorks . . . but now I don't care.

    Yeah, the media game is rigged. But I blame Gore for not standing up to the bullies. Bush stood up to the bullies when he was treated 1/10th as unfairly as Gore got treated. But Gore wanted to be the Jesse Owens hero type figure that could jump one foot before the line and still come out on top. Gore legitimized his attackers and abusers (and it's not just Gore--Democrats in general do this).

    IMHO, Gore's biggest mistake was not taking on the school bullies. First, he should have embraced Bill Clinton instead of running away from him. By running away he looked guilty.

    Same thing with the press treatment. Gore should have taken on the press instead of trying to reason with them or play by their rules.

    But I no longer care about the injustice Gore received. He too is a neoliberal who simply can't offer enough change to do any good. Why defend him? It's not worth it.

    The professional media is shameless and broken beyond repair. They are incapable of meaningful change . . . as are the politicians in the two legacy parties.

    The media and both legacy parties have to be completely destroyed and replaced with something new.

    Propping up Gore or some other lily-livered "progressive" to try to change the system is a task that is doomed to fail. I mean it's good to document the injustice and I'm interested . . . but not like I was in the past.

    I know the media is Penn State. What are we going to do about it?

  3. Another example of media piling on was the Duke lacrosse team rape accusation. The New York Times reporting has been cited as particularly inaccurate. In this case, the lacrosse players were officially declared innocent by North Carolina State Attorney General Roy Cooper . Yet, the media piling on was so awful that many people still believe that the lacrosse players did something wrong.

    Duke University has already paid millions in suits relating to their misdeeds, and are being suied for more. The City of Durham is facing a suit that will likely cost them many millions of dollars. However, the media are almost exempt from libel suits, so they will pay no penalty.

  4. Don't fully agree with Wit Man fully here, but let's assume some of what he says is true. Attempts by Clinton to "stand up for himself", often just brought more derision and abuse. Gore's approach of taking the "high road" may have been a political loser. Still, it's hard to hold him in contempt for it.
    It's a bit like asking someone who's being waterboarded to stand up for themselves.

  5. With regard to Nocera's column anyway, wasn't Brooks attacking a straw man? Nocera didn't say anything about what he would have in anyone else's shoes; he offered opinion on what Penn State should do now and in the future. I don't agree with Nocera's prescription, but he didn't claim that he would have personally taken any morally superior actions.

    I couldn't really figure the point of the Brooks column. I thought it was close to a "let him who is without sin cast the first stone" sort of argument. Or was it that we shouldn't judge until we've walked a mile in Joe Paterno's shoes?

    And coming from Brooks, I can't believe the column was just a meditation on the human condition. The message I got was that we shouldn't go too far in punishing anyone involved--because, after all, who knows how we ourselves would have acted. I don't recall Brooks having these views about allegations about Bill Clinton nor do I expect he will have this view when the politics are different in the future.

  6. "Attempts by Clinton to 'stand up for himself', often just brought more derision and abuse."

    Well, Clinton kept the presidency while less pugnacious politicians, like Gore, may have resigned under similar pressure. So Clinton won there; he really fought when his own skin was on the line.

    And when Clinton stood up for himself by denying the charges against him he was at a critical disadvantage: he was guilty as charged (of philandering at least).

    I too was skeptical of the charges against Clinton at first (and I guess I was correct to be skeptical b/c as Bob informs us some of them were false). However, Clinton was lying when he denied all the underlying charges--as we later found out.

    Whereas Gore was innocent of the underlying charges. Gore did put his penis anywhere and he did not cover up for his superior. But Gore was there for the so-called achievements of the Clinton administration so he should have taken credit for those achievements instead of running away from Clinton. Gore should have given the "I did not have sexual relations with that woman speech", angrily rejecting the charges against him. Clinton couldn't get away with it because he was lying. Gore could have gotten away with it because he was innocent of the charges against him . . . .

    But Gore legitimized the attacks against him. Gore's pragmatic Democratic approach to politics is too little too late.

  7. That should be "Gore did NOT put his penis anywhere it shouldn't be . . . ."

    Sorry for the mistake Gore . . . not that you'd do anything about it.

  8. For the opposite extreme in a very similar case, read the story of Red Sox clubhouse manager Don Fitpatrick (Boston Globe 11/8/2001).
    The Globe story was a full ten years after the story should have gone public.

  9. Brooks just wanted to write a column that would allow him to use the phrases "Normalcy Bias" and "Motivated Blindness."

  10. "Because everything that Penn State has done, both to the president and everybody on down, has presumed guilt in this case."

    I disagree with this characterization. Unless I am misunderstanding, the people who have been disciplined by Penn State have been disciplined for failing to report allegations that were brought to them to the proper authorities. This failure has nothing to do with the veracity of those allegations.

    Those fired were not fired because Sandusky raped little boys. They were fired because they covered up the fact that someone alleged Sandusky raped little boys.

    Let Sandusky have his day in court. The outcome of that trial won't change the incomprehensible moral failure of those who were in a position to take some sort of action.

  11. Anonymous@November 15, 2011 9:28 PM wrote, "Those fired were not fired because Sandusky raped little boys. They were fired because they covered up the fact that someone alleged Sandusky raped little boys."

    Excellent point.

  12. Mr. Somerby, I agree with your overall point here, but let's not get carried away:
    "In this morning’s New York Times, David Brooks talks some sense about the outrage being voiced by our highly self-confident pundits.
    “Let’s All Feel Superior,” his headline says. Given what we know about human functioning, Brooks suggests that his colleagues might not have acted in the glorious ways they’re prepared to suppose, had they confronted the ugly events which transpired at Penn State."

    Brooks' column was atrocious. A combination of schlock sociology and inaccurate history put to the service of implying that Joe Paterno et al. may have failed in the their moral duty to protect children from a sexual abuser only because the DFH's have caused our society to lose its moral compass (which always = strict rules for Brooks).