Wednesday, February 10, 2016

PSU Long-Term

A New York Times piece suggesting the impact of the PSU child-sex scandal won't have much long-term impact misses the mark.

PSU Long-Term


I've long believed there's a critical shortage of criticism of major mainstream media, so allow me a little vent regarding a highly played piece in yesterday's New York Times.

It ran under a headline, "A Storm That Should Pass." You can read it here.

It led the newspaper's "SportsMonday" with a large color photo of Penn State students in the stands at Saturday's Nebraska game, one student holding a sign: "We are STILL Penn State."

The piece, quoting higher-ed officials and crisis-management experts, argues that while PSU's child-sex scandal is like a "Category 5 storm, it probably won't have much long-term impact on the university."

To me, especially in terms of fundraising and athletic recruiting, that remains to be seen. And multiple investigations and lawsuits will play out for years, as the Times piece rightly notes.

But what I think misses the mark in the piece is its attempt to compare the obvious cover-up at PSU, dating back at least a decade, with other collegiate tragedies or scandals that don't begin to rise to the level of core institutional problems.

For example, the Times cites the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech that left 33 dead and that included post-event criticism of the school for reacting slowly to alert the entire campus after the shooter began his rampage.

Not comparable. The tragedy was clearly the act of one deranged person. The ONLY way it could reasonably be similar to PSU's situation is if the university admitted the person knowing he had been accused of prior shootings and then didn't tell anyone about those accusations.

Another comparison offered by the Times is the 2006 Duke case in which three members of the mens' lacrosse team faced rape allegations that subsequently were dropped. But it's a stretch to suggest that because the Duke case got ongoing national coverage, it's similar to the PSU case.

It's true that both cases drew wide attention partly because both schools enjoyed a positive reputation and image. But that's it. There was no long-term, instutitional protection of possible offenders at Duke, as there clearly was at Penn State.

In fairness, the Times included some balance. Well into the piece, it quotes crisis and risk management expert, Harlan Loeb, of Edleman, a global public relations firm.

"I've not seen anything on this scale, where the leadership's been on notice for 10 years that something was going on, and took no action," Loeb told the newspaper, "That has to have a big effect on trust and reputation."

He's right. No one has seen anything on this scale. And no one, not even The New York Times, can predict or pretend to accurately propose what the long-term impact will be.




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About this blog
John Baer has been covering politics and government for the Daily News since 1987. The National Journal in 2002 called Baer one of the country's top 10 political journalists outside Washington, saying Baer has, "the ability to take the skin off a politician without making it hurt too much." E-mail John at

John is the author of the book "On The Front Lines of Pennsylvania Politics: Twenty-Five Years of Keystone Reporting" (The History Press, 2012). Reach John at

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