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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 12/7/11

DeLillo's Jesuit Priest, the Media Jackals, the Incited Mob and Joe Paterno: Part three of "What did Joe Paterno know ..

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Having spent years immersing myself in Russian literature (some of it in Russian) and having dabbled in French, German, Czech, English and American literature, I've gained a modest acquaintance with the world's great literature. It is from that perspective that Don DeLillo's Underworld struck me as the greatest novel I've read (possessing a very slight edge over Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude)

In Underworld DeLillo persuasively demonstrates a point he has argued elsewhere, namely that serious literature can compete with history, if not surpass it, when it comes to providing a deep understanding of our past.

There's a tremendous section in Underworld (pp. 536-43) about Father Paulus, a priest at a Jesuit reform school in Minnesota, who is visited by the novel's protagonist Nick Shay. Shay had murdered a man and had spent time in juvenile detention before being sent to that reform school.

Father Paulus says: "Sit down, Shay, and tell me how you're doing. A young man's progress. That's the title of this session."

Shay says: "I borrowed a pair of boots."

Paulus: "Do they fit?"

Shay: "No."

Later, Father Paulus asks Shay what he's reading. Shay "recited a list." Paulus asks: "You understand what's in those books?" Shay says: "No." Then, he elaborates: "What I don't understand, I memorize."

Father Paulus dropped his smile and said: "That's not why we started this place, is it?" He then explains: "What we want to do here is to produce serious men. What sort of phenomenon is this? Not so easy to say. Someone, in the end, who develops a certain depth, a spacious quality, say, that's a form of respect for other ways of thinking and believing."

After revealing some of his own failures in life to Shay, he asks: "Have you come across the word velleity? A nice Thomistic ring to it. Volition at its lowest ebb. A small thing, a wish, a tendency. If you're low willed, you see, you end up living in the shallowest turns and bends of your preoccupation. Are we getting anywhere?"

Later Father Paulus says: "Sometimes I think the education we dispense is better suited to a fifty-year old who feels he missed the point the first time around. Too many abstract ideas. Eternal verities left and right. You'd be better off looking at your shoes and naming the parts."

Paulus then commands: "Name the parts."

Shay subsequently mentions the laces, the sole and the heel.

Paulus asks him to proceed and Shay responds: "There's not much to name, is there? A front and a top."

Paulus responds: "A front and a top. You make me want to weep."

Later Paulus says: "You're so eloquent I may have to pause to regain my composure. You've named the lace. What's the flap under the lace?"

Shay: "The tongue."

Paulus: "Well?"

Shay: "I knew the name. I just didn't see the thing."

Paulus: "You didn't see the thing because you don't know how to look. And you don't know how to look because you don't know the names."

Father Paulus then points to various parts of the shoe and provides those names: "cuff," "counter." "quarter," "welt," "vamp," "eyelet," "aglet," and "grommet." He wonders aloud "how everyday things lie hidden. Because we don't know how to observe."

Then he concludes: "Everyday things represent the most overlooked knowledge. These names are vital to your progress."

After that tutorial, Shay returns to his room, determined to look up words. "I wanted to look up velleity and quotidian and memorize the f*ckers for all time, spell them, learn them, pronounce them syllable by syllable -- vocalize, phonate, utter the sounds, say the words for all they're worth."

This is the only way in the world you can escape the things that made you." [p. 543]

Obviously, when Father Paulus laments the emphasis on the eternal verities at the expense of actually being able to "look" and to "name," he's attempting to convey to Shay a wisdom that goes as far back as Socrates: Effective virtue requires knowledge, and the determination of the right and the wrong must await a perception of the true and the false.

Obviously, those of you, who have jumped to conclusions about Joe Paterno -- based upon the evidence contained in the November 2011 grand jury report concerning the Jerry Sandusky's alleged sexual molestation of boys -- have failed miserably to "look" and to "name," and thus, have failed the test of effective virtue. Worse, you've not only failed the test posed by Socrates, you've also engaged in unethical behavior.

According to Max H. Bazerman and Ann. E. Tenbrunsel, who have recently published their book, Blind Spots: Why We Fail to Do What's Right and What to Do about it, there are more unintentional ethical failures than intentional. Many of the unintentional ethical failures result from what ethicists called "bounded ethicality."

The authors provide many examples of bounded ethicality. For example, the Challenger explosion in 1986 was the result of bounded ethicality. No one intended the disaster to happen, but the expectation that the launch would occur during cold weather and the suspicion by Morton Thiokol engineers of a causal connection between low temperatures and O-ring failures proved to be insufficient reason for Thiokol management to recommend a delay of the launch, especially after NASA put pressure on Thiokol to recommend a launch. Instead Thiokol's managers made a "management decision" to recommend a launch. As the authors of Blind Spots note: "An examination of all of the data shows a clear connection between temperature and O-ring failure, and that the Challenger had a 99 percent chance of failure. [p. 15]

Another example of bounded ethicality concerns a mother, who confided that she decided not to vaccinate her children for fear of the connection between vaccinations and autism. Her confidant not only suggested that she might be overestimating the risk of the vaccine when compared with the risks of getting the disease, she also suggested that the woman had failed to consider the effect of her decision upon others -- specifically those "immune-compromised children who could die if they contracted diseases as commonplace as chicken pox from unvaccinated children." [p.9] It was this additional evidence that prompted the woman to rethink her initial decision.

The woman never intended to do wrong, but she might have done wrong, unwittingly, because she had placed information boundaries around her thoughts about vaccinating her children. "Bounded ethicality examines unethical behavior that arises without intentionality." [p. 29] Moreover, a common form of bounded ethicality arises from "moving forward too quickly with readily available information, rather than first asking what data would be relevant to answer the question on the table and how the decision would affect other aspects of the situation and other people." [p. 15]

Over the past month, the incompetent and unethical Nick Shays in the sports and news media have incited the multitude of unenlightened Nick Shays, which we call public opinion, with inflammatory misinformation that, ultimately, led to the premature firing of Penn State's football coach, Joe Paterno, by the Nick Shays on Penn State's Board of Trustees.

Notice that I said "premature" firing. It still remains quite possible that, eventually, information will be revealed, which shows that Joe Paterno failed his moral duty to do more, when he learned about Jerry Sandusky's alleged sexual assault on a young boy. But, today, nobody can possibly "know" what Paterno failed to do, because Paterno has been prevented from telling his side of the story (initially by President Graham Spanier, who cancelled Paterno's scheduled press conference, then subsequently by his own lawyer).

Nevertheless, today -- long before a single piece of evidence has been brought to a trial -- the "bounded ethicality" practiced by the media, the mob and the trustees has cost Paterno his job and his reputation. In their stupidity and their rush to judgment, the media, mob and trustees have demonstrated that they have no wisdom and no shame.

There's no doubt that Joe Paterno has become a victim of their bounded ethicality. Consider what the media, the mob and the Board of Trustees appear to have overlooked.

First, they've overlooked that fact that a grand jury report is nothing more than an attempt to summarize, persuasively, the essential elements in the case against the accused. Paterno is not among the accused. He's a witness for the prosecution.

The actual grand jury report summarizing the case against Sandusky, Athletic Director Tim Curley and the Vice President for Business and Finance, Gary Schultz, doesn't pretend to contain all the testimony given by its witnesses. And it doesn't pretend to address the evidence that might undermine, if not destroy, its case. Very few members of the media, mob and board of trustees seem to comprehend this fact.

Second, as far as the case against Penn State (excluding Sandusky) is concerned, everything rides on what happened to Victim 2, on 1 March 2002. But, given the fact that Victim 2 has yet to come forward, everything in the grand jury report about Victim 2 hinges, thus far, on the testimony given by Mike McQueary. (Note: ABC News reported on December 5, 2011, that victim 2 will be present at Sandusky's hearing on December 13th.)

Anyone who is inclined to find McQueary's testimony "extremely credible" -- as the grand jury did -- must do so, in the face of contradictory testimony given by Paterno (a fellow defense witness), Curley and Schulz. Moreover, if you're thinking straight, you'll quickly deduce that nothing Victim 2 says -- even if it corroborates McQueary's testimony to the grand jury -- proves that McQueary told precisely what he saw to Paterno, Curley and Schultz. (You'll recall that Paterno alleges that he prevented McQueary from giving him the sordid details.)

Moreover, subsequent email assertions by McQueary (released on 14 November 2011) appear to dispute his own grand jury testimony. As reported by the Associated Press on 15 November 2011 -- McQueary's email contains the claim that he did stop Sandusky's sexual assault on the young boy. "I did stop it, not physically " but made sure it was stopped when I left the locker room." Now contrast that with the grand jury report, which states: "the graduate assistant was shocked but noticed that both Victim 2 and Sandusky saw him. The graduate assistant left immediately, distraught."

What are we to make of these potentially conflicting statements by McQueary? Well, one plausibly might argue that the very fact of being caught caused Sandusky to "stop" his alleged abuse of the boy. Thus, there would be no conflict in McQueary's statements. But, how did McQueary "make sure it was stopped," if he left the locker room "immediately?" Wouldn't you need to stick around a bit, at least long enough to see Sandusky and the boy emerge from the shower, towel themselves and dress, before you could have some assurance that "it was stopped?" In his email, McQueary implies that he stuck around for "30-45 seconds."

Even more troubling for anyone inclined to believe, like the grand jury, that McQueary is an "extremely credible" witness, is the first part of the sentence in his email that claims "I did have discussions with police and with the official at the university in charge of the police." After all, the grand jury report states, McQueary "was never questioned by University Police and no other entity conducted an investigation until he testified in Grand Jury in December, 2010. In addition, the part of McQueary's statement that alleges discussions with police prompted both the State College police and University police to search their records. Neither police department found any evidence of McQueary's discussions with police. Are these legitimate "clarifications" of his grand jury testimony or simply another part of the "creative construction" that certainly came to the aid of his memory in the first place? (See part two).

Then, there are reports of behavior by McQueary that don't square with a person supposedly "distraught" from witnessing Sandusky's alleged rape. As reported on 29 November 2011 by "aurabass" on the Penn State football blog, blackshoediaries: "McQueary played in and Sandusky coached in the annual Easter Bowl benefitting Easter Seals Central Pennsylvania on March 28, 2002, according to a review of archives from the time period. McQueary, a former Penn State quarterback, also played in a June 21, 2002, celebrity golf tournament benefitting Sandusky's charity, The Second Mile. McQueary played in [a] Second Mile golf tournament again in 2003 and was again on the field for the Easter Seals flag football game, with Sandusky coaching, in April 2004."

How do we explain McQueary's willingness to associate himself with Sandusky, if, indeed, he recently had witnessed and reported the anal rape of a young boy by Sandusky? The many possible answers to that question simply boggle the mind.

But, notwithstanding all these reasons to question McQueary's testimony to the grand jury, there's still something more that's bothering me. If one is inclined to believe Joe Paterno's claim that he prevented McQueary from actually revealing the sordid details of Sandusky's sexual assault of a young boy, did Paterno's very reluctance to hear the sordid details persuade McQueary to sanitize his allegations when he spoke to Curley and Schultz? Didn't McQueary believe that Paterno set the standard for moral rectitude at Penn State? Was Paterno's refusal to hear the sordid details -- assuming it's true, for the sake of discussion -- a prime example of bounded ethicality, insofar as it might have influenced McQueary's subsequent discussions with Curley and Schultz?

Regardless of the problems that might undermine McQueary's credibility as a witness, his email did provide a crucial piece of evidence for our investigation of, "What did Joe Paterno know and when did he know it?" It's the part of his email that claims he discussed his allegations concerning Sandusky "with the official at the university in charge of police." That part of his email is unquestionably true, if only because the grand jury report even acknowledges that McQueary met with Athletic Director Tim Curley and the Senior Vice President for Finance and Business, Gary Schultz, who actually was in charge of the University police.

By stating his belief that his discussion with Schultz constituted a discussion "with the official at the university in charge of police," we can surmise that McQueary had reason to believe a police investigation would be conducted. Now, please recall that Sara Ganim of the Harrisburg Patriot-News also has reported that Joe Paterno "told McQueary he would need to speak with his superior, Athletic Director Tim Curley, and with Schultz." As I've argued in part two of this article -- see -- by insisting that Schultz, who was not in Paterno's chain of command, be brought into the conversation, Paterno went beyond his legal obligation to merely report the sexual assault up the chain of command. And by talking to Curley AND Schultz after talking to Paterno, McQueary also went beyond his legal obligation to simply report up the chain of command. Thus, if they both believed that Schultz's participation guaranteed a police investigation, then both McQueary and Paterno met their moral obligation as well as their legal obligation.

My own experience as a Branch Chief in the Department of Defense convinces me that this is how bureaucracies work: When an employee from another branch, or even within my own branch, came to me with a complaint or problem that required the attention of one of my teams -- I knew he came to me fully expecting that I would call in the supervisor of the affected team, report the allegation or complaint to him and, then, ask him to investigate the matter and report back to me. It's how many bureaucracies work.

But, beyond the potential problems with McQueary's testimony, there's more unconfirmed information in circulation that would caution against any rush to judgment against Paterno, based solely upon the grand jury report.

First, there's the recent statement by Jerry Sandusky, who said "Curley told him that someone had told him about "inappropriate behavior in the shower.' Sandusky said he provided Curley with the name [and the telephone number?] of the child he thought was in question, but that Curley never acted on that information." New York Times, Dec. 3, 2011]

Although there's good reason to be cautious about potentially self-serving statements given by Sandusky, it is worth noting that, if Curley did indeed call Sandusky, the grand jury report contains no testimony about such a call. Why? Are we to believe that Curley made no such call, because it's not in the grand jury report, or should we believe that Curley made the call, but that this fact never made in into the grand jury report?

Doesn't it seem probable that Curley would have testified to making such a call, if indeed he had made it? Yes, which implies he didn't make such a call. On the other hand, wouldn't the prosecution undermine its own case against Curley for failing to report sexual abuse and lying about it, had it included in the grand jury report a statement by Curley claiming that he not only called Sandusky, but also that Sandusky gave him the name (and phone number?) of the boy supposedly abused? Certainly, which implies that the prosecution had an interest in excising that part of Curley's testimony from the grand jury report. Although we don't know who to believe on this issue, that very doubt cries out for caution, rather than rushing to judgment.

Finally, there's that extraordinary statement made by Sandusky's defense attorney, Joseph Amendola, to NBC's Bob Costas on 14 November 2011: "We think we have identified" Victim 2, and he "will also say that what is alleged "never happened.'"

ABC News is now reporting that Victim 2 "will take the stand against Sandusky when the hearing begins on Dec. 13." If he testifies that he was subjected to anal rape in March 2002, something that such a victim is unlikely to forget, McQueary's testimony in any trial against Sandusky would prove extremely persuasive. (However, even after the ABC News reported its story, the Centre Daily Times in State College, PA, subsequently reported something different: "At least one victim is expected to testify at the hearing.")

But, persuasiveness before a jury in a Sandusky child sex abuse trial is not the same thing as persuasiveness before a jury in a Curley or Schultz perjury trial, where jurors would need to determine whether McQueary actually told Curley and Schultz what he told the grand jury almost nine years later.

In addition, just as we can't rule out the possibility that Amendola was attempting "to poison the potential jury pool" with his assertions, neither can we rule out the possibility that sources close to the investigation might have received "planted" information, knowing that it would find its way to the news media. For what purpose? To pressure Sandusky into copping a plea and, thus, avoid a messy trial.

Such suspicions might seem unreasonable, were it not for the fact that, during the propaganda run-up to America's invasion of Iraq -- focusing on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction (that we subsequently learned he didn't have) -- officials in the Bush administration leaked information to the New York Times about aluminum tubes in Iraq that "only" could be used in a nuclear weapons program. After the Times published the leaked information, Bush administration officials went on the Sunday morning TV talk shows to say something to the effect of: "You see, even the New York Times is claiming that Saddam Hussein is working on a nuclear weapons program."

Thus, in the unlikely event that Amendola's assertions are correct and, indeed, Victim 2 has been identified and, indeed, will testify that no sexual assault occurred, then virtually the entire case against Penn State (except Sandusky) collapses. Ultimately, there still would be the failure by Curley, Schultz and Spanier to report an allegation of sexual abuse -- but an allegation that subsequently proved to be unfounded. There would be no perjury attached to that failure to report, because a seated jury would find itself more concerned with questions about McQueary's testimony -- now undermined by the testimony of Victim 2. If McQueary is no longer a credible witness, how do you convict Curley and Schultz for perjury?

Although the probability of Amendola's assertions being true seems to be very low, the very miniscule possibility that they are true should give every concerned citizen another reason to pause before rushing to judgment. There simply are too many questions that remain unanswered.

Although I intended to complete my very long article about "What did Joe Paterno know and when did he know it?" with this very long part three, I now see that a part four is required.

I'll close part three by asking you to recall that I paid special attention to three events, two of which occurred on November 14, 2011: (1) the interview of Jerry Sandusky and his lawyer, Joe Amendola, conducted by NBC's Bob Costas and (2) the release of Mike McQueary's email. The third event was Jerry Sandusky's interview with the New York Times on December 3rd. All three events provided information that casts doubt on the "extremely credible" testimony that McQueary gave to the grand jury.

The intent behind the emphasis I placed on these three events was to highlight something that every adult American already should know -- that the grand jury report is but one side of the story. Having made that point, I must also state -- for the dullards out there -- that I don't automatically assume the accuracy of evidence that might undermine the grand jury report. Let's simply and patiently allow the facts fall where they may.

Finally, I also needed to highlight the information provided on November 14th and December 3rd, which potentially contradicts the grand jury report, before I could turn to an examination of the jackals in the sports and news media, who wrote or presented erroneous and inflammatory nonsense before November 14th -- and, thus, on the assumption that the grand jury report was unassailable. It's to them that I'll turn in part four.


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Walter C. Uhler is an independent scholar and freelance writer whose work has been published in numerous publications, including The Nation, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Journal of Military History, the Moscow Times and the San (more...)
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