Hearne: Penn State Paterno Interview by Washington Post Belies Good Journalism

This is what’s lame about print journalism today….

By most measures Washington Post reporter Sally Jenkins’ exclusive interview with disgraced Penn State football coach Joe Paterno was a grand slam homerun. It’s what newsroom editors like to call, a "great get." Which is that’s understandable, except for one thing.

Jenkins sacrificed her journalistic soul by writing a sugar-coated, Joe Posnanski-like schmooze piece rather than playing it straight down the middle, asking the tough questions and convincing readers that her mission was not to spare the rod.

Posnanski, I’m sure you recall, was notorius for being brilliantly effusive but traveling ultra light when it came to doling out hardnosed criticism.

Remember however, this was supposed to be a hard news interview.

However, it’s clear from reading Jenkins’ story hat she telegraphed her mission to Paterno. It’s pretty obvious from her writing that Paterno understood in advance that it would be a sympathetic work with but a handful of lightly-asked questions to which he would be able to respond with grandfatherly-like, naive answers that would largely go unchallenged.

Sally Jenkins is no Bob Costas.

In Costas’ interview with alleged child molester Jerry Sandusky – Paterno’s former coach who is accused of multiple indecencies with children during his time at Penn State – Costas set the standard for being just polite enough to keep the inquisition going, but tough enough to drill down past the bullshit.

Jenkins did not.

Instead she immersed herself in what too many sportswriters and journalists today mete out in abundance; flowery, cookie-cutter language and treatment that passes for great writing but poor reporting.

Take the story’s lead sentence:

"Joe Paterno sat in a wheelchair at the family kitchen table where he has eaten, prayed and argued for more than a half-century. All around him family members were shouting at each other, yet he was whispering. His voice sounded like wind blowing across a field of winter stalks, rattling the husks."

What is this, a Charles Dickens novel? Now check out the lead on CNN‘s report on Jenkins’ masterpiece.

Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/2012/01/14/3371155/joe-paterno-in-hindsight-i-wish.html#storylink=cpy"Legendary football coach Joe Paterno, who was ousted from Penn State University over an alleged child sex abuse scandal, told the Washington Post he felt inadequate to deal with the initial allegation of abuse."

"Legendary football coach Joe Paterno, who was ousted from Penn State University over an alleged child sex abuse scandal, told the Washington Post he felt inadequate to deal with the initial allegation of abuse."

Notice the lack of artifice compared to Jenkin’s flowery intro?

Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/2012/01/14/3371155/joe-paterno-in-hindsight-i-wish.html#storylink=c

It’s like this, many, if not most of the people I’ve met in the newspaper biz are really writers not reporters.

Oh sure, they may go by the title reporter – it comes with the job – but there’s a huge difference between somebody who loves to write about stuff and somebody who loves to dig deep into a story to try and get to the bottom of things. Someone unafraid to ask tough questions and deal with the fallout.

It’s not easy and it goes against most writer / reporter’s wanting to be a nice guy grain.

Remember former Star staffer Dan Margolies? Former Pitch main man David Martin?

Those dudes could write, but their principle aim was to break news and let the chips fall where they may. They didn’t attain their reps by pussyfooting around and bending every which way but loose to ensure the subjects of their reporting would be pleased with their approach. Let alone the finished product.

Who really cares, for example, that the Post reporter had dinner with the Paterno family and watched as they passed the mashed potatoes?

“You know, he didn’t want to get specific,” Paterno told jenkins. “And to be frank with you I don’t know that it would have done any good, because I never heard of, of, rape and a man. So I just did what I thought was best. I talked to people that I thought would be, if there was a problem, that would be following up on it.”

Never heard of "rape and a man," Please.

Where were the Bob Costas-like followup questions painting Paterno into the obvious corner for more specifics as to why he didn’t take further steps to bring things to a head with Sandusky rather than blithely passing the information on to somebody higher up the ladder at Penn State?

Especially when Sandusky continued to hang at the school with young kids in tow.

Instead, Jenkins pretty much let Paterno off the hook with a nonchalant treatment of his statement that, to this day he’s unwilling to judge Sandusky, saying, “I think we got to wait and see what happens."

After more than a decade, the waiting is over.

On and on the interview continued with Paterno’s son weighing in that his dad is not the victim, wife Sue saying that she’d have gathered a bunch of guys and punched Sandusky in the nose, and a ton of unrelated hooey about how underpaid Paterno’s been over the years and how many Academic All Americans he’s had.

It’s one thing to be embroiled in writing Paterno’s biography like former Star sports columnist Joe Posnanski. However Posnanski’s getting paid a reported $750,000 to kiss up to Paterno and ensure that the book gets down. If he comes down too hard on Paterno before the book’s done and the Sandusky scandal is fully vetted, who’s gonna buy the book? The answer being practically nobody.

So Posnanski has to walk on his tiptoes.

That’s a far cry from being in the position Costas was with Sandusky and Jenkins was with Paterno.

Whole whole different kettle of fish.

Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/2012/01/14/3371155/joe-paterno-in-hindsight-i-wish.html#storylink=misearch#storylink=cpy
Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/2012/01/14/3371155/joe-paterno-in-hindsight-i-wish.html#storylink=cpy
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8 Responses to Hearne: Penn State Paterno Interview by Washington Post Belies Good Journalism

  1. Craig Glazer says:

    Wow, Joe Got a Million Bucks, Damn
    Book biz is really tough now, 100 thousand advances are now very rare, 500 g’s you better be a rock star, and Joe getting a 750 is tops for a guy with no real book writing name, yes he did a couple but nothing huge, Joe Paterno is the sell here, Joe got to ride with him, this is Joe’s payoff from all the years with the Star…Jason has not gotten near that yet….he might if he writes Michael Vick’s book, “I DIDN’T DO IT BY IF I DID…” by Vick with Jason Whitlock, nice money there…

  2. balbonis moleskine says:

    ctrl c ctrl v
    I like this commentary when I read it on deadspin.com this morning.

  3. smartman says:

    JoPo and JoPa
    First of all, take the scandal away and the JoPo book would shit one hundred dollar bills! Probably would have been one of the best selling sports books of all time. Even with Joe’s Harlequin writing style it would have made him a ROCK STAR.

    But Thank God for karma. Now, both Joe’s are having to deal with with some controversy and bullshit that neither is intellectually or emotionally equipped to deal with. The damage has been done to Joe Paterno. Nonody’s gonna kick him in the nuts, especially with the lung cancer stuff. He can plead all the ignorance he wants about “man-rape”, but you put that info in the hands of a Bobby Bowden, Steve Spurrier or Barry Switzer and their defensive coordinator is gonna wind up like Jack Twist in Brokeback Mountain.

    Nobody in their right mind would write a hardball piece about JoPa now for fear of getting killed or maimed. Despite the controversy he’s still much beloved and there are plenty of nutcases that will still kill for him. He’s pretty much hands off for the most part. Jerry Sandusky is nothing but a dead man walking.

    So while the Post article was softer than Scott Pioli’s man breasts it was probably prearranged to be just that on numerous fronts.

    Whether JoPa’s cancer is treatable or whether we’re just being told that doesn’t matter. Whether he lives 20 more days or 20 more years his kids, grand kids and great grand kids are gonna have to deal with the burden of shame and guilt for what Joe didn’t do. It’s nothing compared to what the victims are dealing with but it’s still a shitty way of having to go through life.

  4. Hearne Christopher says:

    That’s not a hard figure, that’s what they are saying at the Star. However rumors are rumors.

    That said, Joe did write on his blog that he was getting a hefty amount of money, and if he’s THE guy doing the one and only authorized bio, it could be huge.

    Of course, Joe’s deal was struck prior to the you-know-what hitting the fan. If he can get deep enough in it could be a page turner. That’s a big “if” though because Joe isn’t exactly known for getting down and dirty.

    If all Joe comes up with – before Paterno dies – is the same pablum Jenkins delivered last weekend, it won’t exactly be riveting reading.

    And how many so-called fans and football freaks are gonna be all that jazzed about a puff book now that the bloom is off Paterno’s rose and they’ve erased his name from all those awards, etc?

  5. Hearne Christopher says:

    Good for you. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Hearne Christopher says:

    Well said

  7. paulwilsonkc says:

    I dont care if he couldn’t define “man-rape”
    I dont really care if he lived in a world where he didnt really think child or sexual abuse had ever happened. There’s a common sense rule of thumb here. An adult male with a naked little boy pushed up against a shower wall with a “slapping sound” echoing from the walls, and Coach, you got a problem. Something in your pea sized adult brain has to leave you scratching your head and asking yourself some basic questions. Do we have players on the team who are REALLY that short? Why is he and the coach showering together? Why is he “slapping” him? Its a 40 foot long shower, why is he pushed up against the wall with the Coach behind him.

    Worst of all, JoPo’s exit statement, “Given the benefit of hindsight…. ” I wish I had done some things different. Really, Coach, HINDSIGHT? Thats what the took to size that up? You make calls from the sidelines based on what you think the opposing team MAY do. You call plays, you make strategic decisions, you ANALYZE situations. That one needed HINDSIGHT?

    I hope your books hits the Amazon list right up there with “The Life Story of Someone I Never Heard OF”.

  8. Super Dave says:

    Just more “But I am Innoent bullshit”
    Put him on a pedestal like most all criminals think they should be placed on. First they fuck over the victims then they expect the world to bow to them and buy their books as well as listen to their crap all the time.

    In a perfect world anyone who has ever committed a crime would never be allowed to profit in any way from the crimes they committed or allowed to be committed.

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