Boom. Penn State Fires Joe Paterno (w/ a VIDEO chronology) & CNN Kicks ESPN's Butt
Nothing is forever. We all knew there would be a day when Joe Paterno would no longer be the coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions. However, if there were a Vegas-style big board for odds on what would end JoePa's tenure as the lead man in Happy Valley, it probably would have had "Dying on the sidelines -350" as the odds-on favorite.
I'm fairly certain that "Child rape scandal cover-up" wouldn't have been on the board. But sadly and (as I pleaded in my post yesterday) correctly, that ticket paid last night when the board of trustees announced that Paterno, along with university president Graham Spanier, would be relieved of their duties effective immediately.
Once the announcement was made, then all hell broke loose.
It started in the board of trustees press conference where the small-town media went into fullblown torch-and-pitchfork mode on the university's board members with Surma as the lightning rod to take all of the hits. The questions, by and large, centered around the board's thieving of Joe Paterno's dignity by not only preventing him from finishing the season, but notifying him of his ouster over the telephone (as if Joe Paterno leaving his house to go anywhere publicly to receive his firing was going to be a safe option for the media or a convenient option for Paterno himself).
Not surprisingly, the yokels in the Happy Valley press corps failed to bring up Paterno's main lieutenant thieving the innocence of what will end up being dozens of young boys, nor did they mention the dignity of the ten year old Jerry Sandusky raped in the shower.
While the so-called journalists at the announcement of Paterno's fate were conducting a verbal assault on our ears, a faction of the Penn State student body took to the streets, conducting a physical assault on the streets of State College. The enduring symbol of the carnage will probably be this television van, which was flipped over and torn apart by the mob...
The story of this mess begins and ends with Sandusky, Paterno, the Penn State administration's blind eye, and most importantly (and most often trivialized) the victims. Secondarily, I will always remember the coverage of this night on television. With the firehose of media resources at our avail in 2011 and our continued desensitization to what constitutes "shocking and compelling," nights like last night are more and more rare, surreal nights where you're glued to the television wondering what could happen next.
Last night was one of those nights -- newsworthy, historical, legacy-changing. It was tailor-made for a media outlet with hustle and with no agendas. So needless to say, ESPN failed in cataclysmic fashion.
Up until last night, most of ESPN's failures in covering Penn State had been centered around what appeared to be a willful passivity toward the story, perhaps to help protect the Penn State brand, which in ESPN's world amounts to one of the main characters in their on-air drama called "College Football." In other words, their failures in coverage until Wednesday were strategic in nature, as the ESPN ombudsmen pointed out in a scathing piece on ESPN's website.
Unlike the first few days of the story, ESPN's failures Wednesday night were entirely in execution. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, they were calling the wrong plays. Wednesday, they were dropping the ball. These gaffes included but were not limited to:
-- The board of trustees press conference. While ESPN was carrying a clunky, static-laden audio feed of one of the most important press conferences in the history of college football, CNN (an actual news organization) was carrying a video feed with crystal clear audio. In theory, ESPN should have lost every interested consumer of this story to channel changing while the press conference was going on, and because even the audio was better on CNN, they should have lost the blind demographic as well.
-- The beginning of the riots. CNN had cameras stationed throughout State College and feet on the ground in the middle of the riots. ESPN had nothing, and it appeared that any correspondents they had near anything dangerous consisted of local journalists doing ESPN's bidding. With the largest army of people and technology in the sports broadcasting business, ESPN was stuck giving viewers another round of Trevor Matich's thoughts in studio while CNN was showing us what was transpiring.