Saturday, December 03, 2011

An absolute must see (two, in fact)

The New York Times' Jo Becker has interviewed former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky about the sexual abuse allegations surrounding him.

You need to take the time to listen and watch Sandusky, who in my opinion continues to struggle to find the right words to express what he feels, thinks and means.

It seems logical on one level that he remains stunned by how his life has been turned upside down. Regardless of whether he committed any sexual abuse, one can see how the magnitude of what he is accused of would make anyone struggle to find the right thing to say. Once you get past "No, I didn't do it," you then need to come up with more complex answers to other questions. Mr. Sandusky is failing miserably in this effort.

On the other hand, he has had nearly a month to digest what has taken place. (And let's not forget that the grand jury investigation lasted almost 18 months.) Certainly in that time and especially with the aid of legal counsel, Mr. Sandusky should have been able to craft a message allowing him to say with no doubt what he thinks about the allegations against him.

This struggle does not mean we should jump to a conclusion that he is guilty. But it does require us to ask why this man cannot articulate with clarity a response to what a grand jury has concluded he has done.

What I appreciated about the Times' editing of this piece was that it allowed for Mr. Sandusky to speak. I didn't time it to the second, but I'm guessing that at least 5:00 of the 9:00 are devoted to his words. Ms. Becker did the requisite set up at the beginning, and then her questions and the occasional narrative allow for the "story" to develop.

But notice that she stays out of the way. She doesn't interject opinions or emotions (two items that are overused by television reporters and too often therefore come off as fake); she allows Mr. Sandusky to say what he has to say. She doesn't attack, which is another terrible trait too often employed by television reporters.

Yes, I know, Ms. Becker is not a television journalist, and so I shouldn't be surprised that she didn't act like one. That's not my point. My point is that by not making herself part of the story, she told a good story.

As an aside, but it is an important one, you also should watch the near 2:00 apology Syracuse University men's basketball coach Jim Boeheim delivered on Friday night about the allegations of sexual abuse against one of his former assistant coaches.

In my opinion, Mr. Boeheim's apology should be accepted. You can disagree, if you wish.

Returning to the New York Times' report, the most stunning part I thought was Sandusky's attempt to address the "are you sexually attracted to boys?" question asked by NBC's Bob Costas during his interview with Sandusky. Instead of clearing up the tortured answer he gave that night, Mr. Sandusky needed his attorney's interjection to get him back on point. If he cannot say with 100 percent conviction and clarity that he is not sexually attracted to boys, then I believe he has no chance of winning over a jury.

His attorney has sent Mr. Sandusky down a tricky road -- in the NBC and New York Times interviews, he admits to some of the allegations against him. By doing so, he is giving a jury an easy-to-make leap: He was in situations where sexual misconduct easily could have taken place. For Mr. Sandusky, that leap can be aborted by stating he not only didn't sexually abuse anyone but he also never thought of boys as objects of his sexual interests.

In my opinion, he's fumbled twice in making that kind of statement.

Watch the New York Times piece. Carefully.

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