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Winners & Losers: Media Coverage of PSU Scandal

Bob Costas was a bulldog while handling his exclusive with Jerry Sandusky.

Penn State & Ignominy will forever be associated with one another.. Who, in the media, adapted and attacked the story from the right angle? Who failed to see beyond the peripheral or their forum at a time when the nation was watching the biggest scandal in the history of college athletics unfold?

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There’s no getting around this story (even if you want to). The scandal is lewd and evil in the worst way. I don’t have to tell you that though, and my opinions on the matter aren’t original…..

The cover-up reminds me of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Prominent members of the State College community seemed to have knowledge of Jerry Sandusky’s sick behaviour, but turned away.

And that is almost as damming as Sandusky’s actions.

We can scoff, opine, and struggle with our shortfalls as a culture because of this one man’s wickedness. I’m game as anyone else to go through this practice. I won’t use my site as a forum, though. Instead, I want to bang out a “Winner & Losers” column of media coverage of the scandal.

(And, yes, I know nobody won in this circumstance — I’m as appalled as anyone, believe me.)

Losers

Andy Gresh -  Locally speaking, Gresh is the biggest loser (No pun intended) in the coverage of the scandal. As far as media members go, I measure someone’s skill on how well they think on their feet. So much of the dialect on hot topics are well-rehearsed rants these talking heads have been rehearsing hours before it’s go time. It isn’t often we get the opportunity to see guys like Gresh when news is breaking and reaction is necessary.

Tuesday after the indictment was released, and as the ordeal intensified, Gresh indulged his audience as to how well he can improvise.

Penn State had just cancelled their weekly press conference with Joe Paterno which (appropriately) caused a media frenzy.

In the midst of the firestorm, Gresh said this scandal would not have an impact on Paterno’s legacy. Wrong.  

98.5 The Sports Hub’s midday host went on to say “Paterno technically did the right thing.” (more?) Wrong.

He’ll deny it now. Mainly because he’s had the chance to see the backlash. It reminded me of when Gresh thought it was okay to call Red Sox center-fielder, Jacoby Ellsbury, a “Pussy” on Twitter. The guy needs a filter.

Dan Shaughnessy, who was on the radio with the boisterous host at the time, warned Gresh, “You are so wrong.” Gresh either believed what he was saying, or was playing contrarian with subject matter that did not require a devil’s advocate.

It’s a tough day when you misconstrue something so badly that Shank becomes the voice of conventional wisdom in the room.

ESPN – When your acting ombudsman, the Poynter Institute, annihilates your coverage it’s a good bet things didn’t go smoothly.

Basic issues: ESPN didn’t have the live feed of John Surma’s press conference announcing the school’s dismissal of Joe Paterno. I’ll chop that up to technical issues and give the four-letter network a break.

Other media critics have pointed this out and I will not excuse the overall reactionary coverage. Where were the scoops? Where was the power of ESPN and the presumed sources their reporters have?

ESPN has the resources to be better. There wasn’t enough urgency.

At the end of the day, the most notable tidbit of coverage ESPN brought to the table was Matt Millen breaking down on live television.

It’s a tough day when your network’s journalistic contribution to the biggest college athletics scandal is from Matt Millen.

Peter King – It’s worth saying the ”Monday Morning quarterback” author delivers the best aggregate view of what happens on a given Sunday for SI.com.

But my friends and I have never understood why he engages critiscm on Twitter like he’s a YouTube commentator discussing the merits of a Creed song.

King’s griping of how Paterno was let go over the phone was a micro view of an issue which reverberates strongly because of the alleged crime, and frankly came off as petulant. Odd point to hammer on, and I think we can all agree it is trite and insignificant that Paterno was told over phone.

The news was Paterno is gone — King missed the boat.

Joe Posnanski – Another Sports Illustrated scribe makes my list. Joe Po (A. Does that work?), had an interesting blog post that I strongly encourage everyone to check out on how he feels about the Paterno implication in the Sandusky scandal.

Posnanski is writing a book on Paterno and admits there is an inherent conflict of interest at play here, which is applauded (you’ll NEVER read me scold transparency). But JoePo (B.Yes, it does) loses me in his post when he says..

But I will say that I am sickened, absolutely sickened, that some of those people whose lives were fundamentally inspired and galvanized by Joe Paterno have not stepped forward to stand up for him this week, have stood back and allowed him to be painted as an inhuman monster who was only interested in his legacy, even at the cost of the most heinous crimes against children imaginable.

So JoePo is now asking – nevermind, check that – DEMANDING those who Paterno helped in the past to speak up and support him?

Come on.

I’ve had some great teacher’s in my lifetime. Some I’ve known better than others. But, no matter what, if it came out that they were somehow harboring knowledge of child molestation — I wouldn’t jump to defend their character…

Posnanski says it himself: He doesn’t know Paterno, he just knows a whole lot about him.

CBS – The network needed something, anything, to combat the Bob Costas/Jerry Sandusky interview. Their investigative sports reporter, Armen Keteyian, landed an interview with Mike McQueary. The exclusive was billed and hyped by CBS (and constituents like 98.5 The Sports Hub) all day on Tuesday.

It lasted 24 seconds.

And, really, nothing substantial was illuminated.

By the way, if you couldn’t guess, McQueary’s world is “crazy” right now.

Purgatory

Michael Felger & Tony Massarotti – The top rated afternoon drive program, “Felger & Mazz”, dissected the Patriots last-second loss to the New York Giants the Monday after the indictment was released.

I have no large quarrels there.

The following day there should have been far more focus on the Penn State scandal. Instead, Felger spewed his well-researched rant on the lack of experience throughout Bill Belichick’s staff, which he had alluded to the previous day.

Production should have called an audible and veered content towards the Sandusky scandal.

Here is where I give the duo a pass: When Felger attacks something of this magnitude and nature (by that, I mean there is no gray area and everyone is on the same page), he is endearing. His “morally bankrupt” line was a perfect example of acerbic tone coupled with caustic remarks being worthwhile.

Unfortunately, these days, Felger seems agenda driven rather then anything else.

Tony Massarotti’s statement, “This makes me not want to like sports” only heightened later in the show transforming to, “This makes me feel bad as a human.” In my eyes, this perfectly summarized the general feeling this scandal created. Mazz was also right to make sure web producers put the indictment on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s site.

If you haven’t taken the time to actually read the document, you should. I could be wrong in saying this, but reading the indictment gave the same feeling of realism of how terrible this really was much like watching 9/11 unfold on television conveyed the horror of that tragedy.

Winners

Fred Toettcher – “Toucher & Rich” are generally lumped in with “zoo radio”, although they’ve done their part to rid that stigma and become a balanced sports radio show. Toettcher did well to emphasize how big a story this was the Monday following the scandal, while many of his local peers focussed on the Patriots’ collapse to the Giants.

“Dennis & Callahan” – The morning drive radio program attacked a subject that is right in their wheelhouse — sports mixed with scandal of public officials — and thrived. Producers obtained great guests throughout the coverage. Second to none was Michael Madden who wrote about the scandal in April. 

Madden, who also is a winner in this coverage, dropped this bomb on WEEI..

I can give you rumor and I can give you something else … I think we’re going to hear a more shocking development from 2nd mile Foundation … hold onto your stomachs boys, this is gross … [the rumor is] Jerry Sandusky and 2nd mile were pimping out young boys to rich donors. That is being investigated by two prominent columnists even as I speak … [I also think] youll find out Sandusky was told to retire in exchange for a cover up.”

“The Big Show” – Michael Holley is at his best when it comes to culture and sport colliding. His sparring partner, Glenn Ordway, directed traffic well while Holley interjected with thoughts on the different angles of this scandal. The “Bryant Gumbel/David Stern plantation owner” incident gave the tandem a nice appetizer to work off of, and their chemistry was peaking when it needed to be with the Penn State story. Solid radio.

Bob Costas – His interview with Sandusky is still being talked about today. Great re-directs, great re-phrasing — Bob is pure pro who sometimes is unfairly associated with the arrogance of a Joe Buck (probably because both were largely successful at a young age).

The Patriot News – Pwned.

About Ryan Hadfield

Ryan Hadfield is the author of the weekly Sports Media Musings column at Sports Of Boston. Hadfield is known as one of the top sports media critics in Boston. He also contributes to Boston Sports Media Watch. In November 2011, Hadfield helped launch the new SoB Point Taken blog featuring his podcasts & musings on sports, media and culture. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

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Discussion

2 comments for “Winners & Losers: Media Coverage of PSU Scandal”

  1. [...] Gresh didn’t get the magnitude of the Penn State scandal. He was either slow to understand the ramifications of the accusations [...]

    Posted by Ordway Jabs at Gresh, Zolak Feels Served | Point Taken | November 17, 2011, 12:42 pm
  2. Just my two cents – I’d add Dennis & Callahan to the list of the winners. They’ve done incredibly extensive coverage of Penn State, including interviews with lawyers and beat writers from the area.

    Otherwise…agreed on all fronts. I was disappointed in Peter King and disgusted by Joe Posnanski.

    Posted by KC Downey | November 17, 2011, 10:26 pm

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