JoePa and the second coming of muckracking

Yesterday members of Penn State Nation lost their deity, their hero, their icon. Joseph Vincent Paterno, the Brooklyn-born, Brown-educated, longtime coach of the university’s football team, succumbed to his battle with lung cancer just two months after he was dismissed as head coach for his alleged inaction in 2002 after learning that a longtime member of his staff, former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, allegedly molested a minor in the Penn State football locker rooms.

In an era of 24-7 news coverage and a rush to be the first outlet to break a story, the fourth estate has taken on a new level of importance in American society, and in the process ends up distorts the truth or placing emphasis on the wrong aspects of a story to win the ratings race. It’s as if we’ve return to an era of muckraking and yellow journalism at the expense of the truth.

For weeks after the Penn State scandal broke in November the media focused its attention largely on Paterno, not because he was the one arrested for the alleged crimes but because he was the face of the university, the “big man on campus” so to speak. Members of the Penn State University Board of Trustees even admitted that the media scrutiny of the university in the days after the grand jury report was released played a large role in Paterno’s dismissal on November 9th. And even in JoePa’s final hours the media couldn’t get their coverage right, erroneously reporting Saturday night that he had passed only to have the report refuted within minutes by a statement from the family spokesman and tweets by two of Paterno’s sons.

Happy Valley may not be very happy right now, but they shouldn’t be the only ones. It is up to all of us to demand more from the press, and if there is anything good to come out of the Penn State molestation scandal and JoePa’s death I hope it is that we revisit the state of modern journalism and demand that this second coming of muckraking end.


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