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about 3 years ago

Shame On You, Wall Street Journal

joe wsj

I would’ve thought that The Wall Street Journal was above this.

It’s not a tabloid. Its readers care more about the stock quotes than the sensationalism. If anyone would stay above the fray, I’d expect it to be the Journal.

And yet, even those bastions of journalistic integrity have been sucked into the traps. If you haven’t seen the story I’m about to rant about, consider yourself lucky. Don’t go searching for it, read it, and come back here. Just close this tab and go along with your day. You’ll thank me later.

But I’m assuming that article will spread like wildfire. It’s only going to stoke the flames that have been growing higher and higher in the past two weeks, a fire that may have started with Jerry Sandusky at its epicenter, but quickly consumed Joe Paterno.

It’s a powerful message that the only real damage from the “riots” two weeks ago came in the form of a tipped news van. I don’t mean to condone the actions of a few idiots–it was wrong, in every way–but it was emblematic of our frustration with a media that came to Happy Valley with one goal in mind: burying our iconic coach.

And now, a fortnight later, with the damage already done, The Wall Street Journal has joined those ranks, running a story that not only fails to be timely, but is also hardly fair and blatantly unbalanced.

It’s shocking and discouraging–if not completely unsurprising, given how this month has gone–to see a major newspaper give a forum to a disgruntled former employee for the voicing of grievances. Vicky Triponey, the former (and disgraced) Vice President for Student Affairs at Penn State, clearly went to the newspaper, selling a story, and in another sad chapter of this affair, the Journal bought it.

The story quotes a number of emails Triponey sent to senior administrators at Penn State–namely former President Graham Spanier–complaining that Joe Paterno was meddling, interfering with her ability to discipline student-athletes for violations of Penn State’s code of conduct, and implying that his players were above the law. To that end, it cites a handful of situations in which Paterno apparently clashed with the University disciplinarian.

First and foremost, I struggle to find any rationale for the Journal–for any paper, really–to publish this story. Not only does it fail to unveil any remotely new information (ESPN’s Outside the Lines famously questioned Paterno’s willingness to control his players in a segment that aired three-and-a-half years ago, even citing the same Vicky Triponey and her power struggle with the coach, and it was also roundly criticized for being one-sided and taking many of these very same incidents out of context), but it relies on anecdotal evidence focused on a narrow time span within Paterno’s 46-year career as Penn State’s head coach.

In other words, there could not possibly be considered a reason to publish this story unless the intent was to remind critics that they have something else to bash Joe Paterno about. The media already got the man fired and discredited, what’s a little more gasoline on the fire? This has nothing to do with Jerry Sandusky’s alleged heinous crimes, but who cares when you can rehash decade-old stories that paint Paterno in an unsympathetic light? Who needs timeliness or relevance–it’s not like those are the chief tenets of journalism or anything.

It’s important to keep in mind just how one-sided the story is. It does little more than quote Triponey’s emails–throwing aside a statement released by Paterno’s lawyer before getting to the meat of the allegations, and reporting a “no comment” from the University and from Spanier. It doesn’t contain any contemporary responses from Spanier or Paterno–although if Triponey was willing enough to hand over to the newspaper the emails she sent, it’s hard to imagine she wouldn’t be willing to “leak” those she received from administrators.

And given the tone of the story, if they were going to be remotely critical of Paterno–even taken out of context–they’d have been published. The story takes as infalliable the words of Triponey–a woman who, it must be reminded, cut all funding to the student radio station because one show, Radio Free Penn State, was critical of the Penn State administration.

She meddled in student government affairs, and left behind a legacy so uniformly negative that Safeguard Old State, a student-run advocacy group, once published the ”Vicky Triponey Timeline of Terror.” Triponey is a woman who hardly anyone at Penn State during her tenure has a kind word for.

And she’s the lone real source for the Journal‘s anti-Paterno screed–if you don’t count a sentence from a student who was a victim in the “apartment fight” that spurred the Outside the Lines piece.

That’s one more notch in the “bad journalism” checklist: the story isn’t remotely balanced.

Here’s the thing: if The Wall Street Journal–hell, if Onward State–wanted to write a story titled “Paterno Placed Academics, Discipline First,” we could undoubtedly find enough people who’d be willing to speak with us, on the record, to write that story. We wouldn’t be presenting a whole story, but that’s obviously par for the course.

The only difference between this hypothetical and the story the Journal actually ran is that ours wouldn’t fit into the agenda the media has set out to accomplish: to try and drag the reputation of Joe Paterno through the mud. We’d actually be properly representing a man who oversaw a program that had more Academic All-Americans and fewer NCAA violations than just about any other in the country.

Well done, Wall Street Journal. Every time I think the national media can’t be any worse, you manage to find a new nadir. That takes real skill.

Unlike your brand of “journalism.”

Note: an earlier version of this post referred to the charges against Sandusky as indiscretions. The Wall Street Journal’s piece did not focus on the allegations against Sandusky, and I did not want this article to, either.

92 Responses to “Shame On You, Wall Street Journal

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RIRedinPA says:

So much for that Grand Experiment, eh. Your school is being exposed for what it is, an institution bent on protecting the “brand” of its football program and ergo the revenue that brand generates, whether that be handing out slaps on the wrists for its football players “transgressions” or covering up sex crimes against kids. I can imagine that it is a tough situation to deal with, you are all vested in the identity that is “Penn State”, a lot of you put a lot of money into getting that identity as well but man up and quit the whining, please.

Your school is no different than any other university with a big time college football program, your leaders, including Joe Pa, are no different than any of the others who have willingly covered up violations (ok, maybe yours are a lot worse for what they covered up) to protect their brand names.

Wouldn’t it be better to just say, ‘well that sucked’ and then figure out how to right your ship instead of playing perpetual victim here.

Preston Hawkins says:

You are quick to defend your half-witted and mostly senile coach. He should have been quick to defend children, but apparently he was not. Hope the cancer eats him alive.

mc says:

Let’s be clear, Paterno reported the act to school authorities and not the police. And when the achool authorities did nothing Paterno closed his eyes. So for you its ok that Paterno knew the rape happened and never went to the police becasue it was reported to school authorities and he followed protocol?  I thought Paterno preached that students should be honest and exhibit integrity? How were his actions honest? or exhibit integrity?

Daniel Strohl says:

Your lack of perspective on the gravity of what occured at your university is simply incredible. I understand you love Penn State, but Penn State, and Joe Paterno, engaged in a systematic effort to protect the brand at all costs. It began with protecting athletes and ended with allowing a coach to engage in the serial rape of children.

psudad says:

Wow-the commentors below sure don’t buy your defense of Coach Paterno or criticism of the Wall Street Journal for reporting the story.  I won’t attack you personally like they have.  Some of your points are well enough taken-too often what passes for jornalism is little more than pandering to the masses.

In particular, your complaint about the timing of the report is well enough taken too.  What I hope the commenters below are trying to say is-this story is worth re examining in light of Coach Paterno’s other (and much more serious) failures.

We all know that athletes get special treatment, especially in college, but also in other situations.  I saw that when I was at PSU so long ago, and I am not shocked to see it now.  That we accept and excuse misbehavior by our sports heros is frankly part of the out of kilter priorities we have as a culture, and not just at PSU, but everywhere.

So, this Wall Street Journal story is important because it demonstrates that Joe was just like every other college football coach-self interested, venal and not at all moral.  I never believed the lie that Penn State and Joe Paterno “do the right thing.”  The evidence was continously to the contrary.  Yet so many in the Penn State community and elsewhere believed it.  I never could and hope that now, many will come to the same realization and try to guard against such mindless hero worship in the future (and not just with respect to college football).

We do need to judge others and insist that everyone adhere to at least minimal standards of conduct, even if the person being judged is a star entertainer, athlete or coach.  If we do that, then we indirectly minimize the prospect that our entertainer, athlete or coach will feel that they are “above the law.” 

Perhaps considered in light of current circumstances, we can appreciate the issues raised by the Wall Street Journal in a broader and more useful context.

Doug says:

Devon, the op-ed that you wrote above demonstrates why the problem of unchecked authrority went on for so long and ultimately exploded at the school.
That you characterize Triponey by stating that she is a woman that “hardly anyone at Penn State during her tenure has a kind word for” showcases not just your own bias but that kind of wrath that was faced by anyone who DARED to suggest that players be subjected to same rules and discipline as other students. (Shocking that someone in charge of discipline was unpopular.)
To argue that insider status makes you uniquely qualified to make a judgement at the school, is what Curley notes in his email to Triponey: “Joe thinks it should be his call.” Curley also told Triponey in her email that her summary was accurate.
Shame on the Wall Street Journal? Shame on you Devon.

PennGuy says:

Man, you’ve demonstated that you haven’t studied journalism. That’s fine, but know this — after-the-fact examinations are integral to great reporting, it’s a self-examination that reporters like Reed Albergotti do continually and bravo to them for it. Financial reporters parroted what Fortune 100 companies told them and then caught hell during the financial meltdown of 2008. When people dug up all the glowing, all-is-well crap that was written, this created a renewed focus on broadening the scope of the reporting and sourcing. It’s not WSJ’s agenda to drag Paterno’s reputation through the mud, it’s to find how this happened and report it accurately so it never happens again. Triponey is a legitimate source and one of the few people that had a dissenting voice when all others were in sync performing the chorus of JoePa worship. That her story was reported years ago and ignored gives her more credibility now, not less.

Ben M. says:

“Gosh darn outsiders coming to OUR school and showing how WE covered up child rape for decades. They should mind their own business.” Really? this is your argument?

You are a terrible person and should be ashamed.

Sarah Murphy says:

Here’s a novel idea.  Save your outrage for the dozens of boys who were sexually molested by a member of your beloved team’s leadership.  And that the man at the top knew about it and let it continue for ten years.  That’s the outrage.  Nothing else.  How many little boys were physically hurt and abused in that period between when Mr. Paterno learned that his employee raped a small boy in the football team’s locker room and the crime was reported to the police?  Ten years.  That’s the outrage.  In the great moral calculus that is ultimately done, I can guarantee you that a football team’s winning record won’t stand up to the loss of moral stature this incident represents.  A little boy was raped by a football coach in the team locker room and the team’s leadership knew about it, and it continued.  Every time a member of the Penn State Jo Paterno fan club blames others, like the media, for the flames engulfing the school, they only further the flames.  People cannot believe that the people of “Happy Valley” have any other priority other than the little boys.  Happy Valley?  Hardly.

shame on you! says:

At the time Pen State hired Vicky Triponey was considered the top in her field and had more than 30 years experience. How interesting that as the sordid and sorry tale of Pen State and the cult of Joe Pa is being exposed this pathetic little paper decides to slam WSJ and spread trash about Triponey. Perhaps Onward State should look at its own complicity and lack of integrity and the role it may of had in allowing and perhaps even facillitating a truly sick and unhealthy culture at Pen. 

CJR says:

YES.
Journalistic garbage, my ass. The WSJ article was one of the most insightful and truly revealing on how colleges manage personnel and students. It’s pieces like this that we need, not your indignant, ignorant blathering, Devon.

Jamie McAfee says:

You fail to realize that nobody cares about the inside baseball (strange phrase in context, but I’ll allow it) stuff you are ranting about. The point of the WSJ story is that Penn State has a longer history of turmoil related to the football program playing by different rules than everybody else. Given the narrative of “what a shock that the hyper ethical St. Papa Joe was involved in this!” it’s a reasonable thing to report. Penn State superfans who remember a Sport Illustrated (most people dont’ read Sports Illustrated, champ) might not find this newsworthy, but the majority of folks don’t know anything about Penn State or its football program.

So the WSJ prints a story rehashing a relevant controversy because it has something to do with this controversy (tangentially), and you are upset because. . .. .

“They are smearing Papa Joe!! That story is BIASED!!”

Since the outside world is made at him for not preventing rape when he had teh chance, I doubt anybody will much care that he had spats with an andministrator about disciplinary issues.  (And that’s what it appears that he did. Don’t give the the goon anwer that he told other people in the institution. . . did he call the police? Forbid Sandusky from setting foot on Univeristy property? If not, shut it.)

I gotta say that “Safeguard Old State” sure sounds like it has a particular perspective on the Univerity. Unless the name was just really poorly chosen, the existence of such a thing is a demonstration of the cult-like culture that is giving the rest of the world the creeps right now.

In conclusion. . . . if you think that this story is damaging to Papa Joe’s reputation, you really, don’t know what his reputation actually IS, so you?

Tim says:

@PennGuy. Nicely put.

Whether you like it or not, Mr. Edwards, the staff at the WSJ couldn’t have written a story titled “Paterno Placed Academics, Discipline First” even if they wanted to because that’s clearly not the case. We all know that there were a lot of people that could go on record talking about how great a coach he was. I just read the article in The New Yorker where you went on record stating the Joe Paterno is the reason that you went to Penn State. I know it’s crushing when you find out your idol is not what you imagined. We’re all let down. But if he gets credit for all of the accolades and success, he also has to answer for his negligence. Huge, disgusting, criminal negligence.
Are you not at all bothered that yours will do down in history of one of the voices that cheered this man after the events came to light? Even Ashton Kutcher had the decency to step away from that one, and we all know what lech he is.

JM says:

A great point.
One would think that the author, being a Poli Sci major, would not want to align himself with the side that, when followed to its ultimate source, ends at someone who enabled a pedophile. 
On the other hand, any future political opponent would like to thank him for giving their campaign the hammer and nail needed to seal his political coffin. 

Crea says:

Having a strong isn’t the same as having a well-informed one. It took a helluva lot more skill for Albergotti to put together his article than it did for you to post a temper tantrum. When reporters make a mistake, they don’t tell their editors “I filed it at 2 a.m.” but print retractions. Changing “indescretions” to “crimes” and then whining online that you didn’t want to talk about Sandusky’s activities would get you fired. From any newsroom.

JM says:

Devon,
While we’re on the subject of balance in writing wouldn’t it be appropriate to begin the article with something along the lines of “In the interest of full disclouse I feel that it’s necessary to admit that I am such a huge JoePa fanboy that I took a class called Comm 497G: Joe Paterno, Communications & the Media.”

Taryn says:

Devon.

I’ve read your article above, the comments below and your responses to those comments. It seems you’re frustrated by some readers’ focusing on Sandusky’s alleged crimes rather than on your point about media criticism. So I’ll try to focus specifically on the WSJ decision to post this article here.

This sordid scandal is first and foremost a story about child sex abuse. But it also a story about college football as a powerful, insular American institution AND a story about missed opportunities to apprehend the reality of what’s at work within that institution. 

The WSJ story is absolutely relevant because it sheds light on clues to the sordid underbelly of Penn State football culture that were revealed years ago but were largely ignored. And to the extent that a predator was possibly allowed to run amok because of the establishment’s unwillingness to disrupt that sordid status quo, it would be downright journalistically irresponsible for respectable newspapers like the WSJ and the NYT to not go back and re-examine signs from long ago which pointed to the fact that Penn State football was operating as a law onto itself, as this example of lesser student-athlete discipline suggests. The point is that bending the rules for the sake of football in one area, suggests that a pattern of irresponsible decisions by football authorities is arguably what allowed Sandusky to escape detection for as long as he did.

This is an entirely legitimate and reasonable point to make and I would hope that Penn State is now actively doing some deep self-reflection to determine exactly how it failed to see these warning signs.

nyc says:

“Most important class of my college career.” 

DUDE

i-n-t-e-r-v-e-n-t-i-o-n

surely there’s some 12-steppers out in long island

Sean says:

devon edwards, long islander who told a reporter, “joe paterno is the reason I came to penn state,” stated that the fanboy class was the “most important of his college career” and TWEETED from the fan boy class, clearly has no perspective.

In the case of the people vs. penn state management this is surely Exhibit A.

Devon says:

Says the guy who’s posted 10 comments, under different names, to smear a 21-year old kid.

Seriously, I’d oblige everyone to click where it says “neal.” Or should I call you “Doug.” Maybe “Sean,” or “Crea,” or “nyc.” I mean, I’d call that behavior more befitting of a “jackass.”

MT2R says:

Child sexual predator enablers have people writing defenses of them in a paper?? Gosh, PSU sure derives a lot of their image out of college football. It’s over. Done. Get over it. Penn State football is now the shame of college football’s history.

Bill Levinson (B.S. '78) says:

My perception is that Vicky Triponey wanted to exceed her authority by imposing football-related discipline on players, i.e. usurping Joe Paterno’s authority. Paterno wouldn’t let her do it, although he did not hestitate to discipline players himself if they broke the rules. The Triponey Timeline of Terror is very informative and enlightening.

GTWMA says:

Uh, no.  Triponey wanted JA to make the decision on sanctions regarding extracurricular activities (not just football) when students violated the code of conduct.  One good reason for doing that is that it ensures students received adequate due process through JA, rather than an arbitrary punishment from a coach or adviser.  This also removes the obvious problem of the coach/adviser being the prosecutor, judge, and jury, as well as the inherent conflict of interest in that the coach/adviser may benefit from a lax punishment (that’s true whether we are talking about the football team or the moot court team).  Finally, it also ensures equity in punishment, since a single system of sanctions through JA can mantain that better than a system that allows thousands of coaches and advisers to determine sanctions.

I think reasonable people can have disagreements about that whole process.  The complexity of that disagreement, however, is completely lost in the simplistic and misleading “Timeline of Terror” which saw everyrhing through a single, narrow lens.

Christopher Crawford says:

Seriously former managing editor…you are never ever suppossed to respond to the comments section.

Honest says:

Honestly, Irony abounds. Mr. Edwards criticized the Wall Street Journal as a piece of “journalistic garbage:” http://onwardstate.com/2011/11/22/shame-on-you-wall-street-journal/#comments and previously wrote posts citing “anonymous sources close to the athletic department” titled “news” which seemed to be very much “opinion.” See here: http://onwardstate.com/2011/11/09/spanier-and-paterno-clash-extends-beyond-charges/

It’s just a shame; because this isn’t the first time that this has happened; it’s just the first time he’s been caught. 

While I believe he’s truly remorseful, I think he needs a serious gut check on the decorum and professional integrity that even Coach Paterno would espouse and encourage to succeed with “success with honor.” 

All the best, Mr. Edwards and the OnwardState team.

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