That Awkward End of Year Award

End of year awards are a long-running tradition within the news media. Writers and editors pick top stories or top people or top events and then rank them on a Ten-Point scale. That way, we can look back and realize what was really important to us. Time Magazine’s Person of the Year is perhaps the most famous of the bunch (this year it went to The Protester).

Two recent examples of this end-of-year phenomenon really have me scratching my head, though.

The first is the Associated Press (AP) naming the Penn State child sex abuse case the Sports Story of the Year. Sports. Story. In case the AP wasn’t looking, Sara Ganim is a crime reporter (she’s the one who broke the story for the Patriot-News). Crime. Reporter. Sure, the story rocked the Penn State football program. And all the sports outlets have piled on. But it’s a crime story that could have just as easily focused on the Second Mile Charity.

[As a crime story, the Penn State child sex abuse story ranked 6th on the AP list of Top News Stories — Bin Laden’s death was ranked 1st.]

Awkward Meter: At its core, the Penn State child sex abuse case is about crime and pedophilia. The AP got it half right, which is better than whiffing it entirely, but awkward nonetheless.

The second example is The Patriot-News naming of Sandusky Victim One as the Newsmaker of the Year. The Patriot-News selection starts off on all the right notes:

For years, he harbored a dark secret, allegations so shocking they would crumble the cornerstones of a community and would ultimately lead to the fall of individuals who collectively were some of the most powerful men in Pennsylvania.

After that, the story gets progressively harder to read. Not because it is poorly written. Not because it speaks to courage with nobility. Not because the sentiments are anything less than genuine or well-deserved. But one word, one very necessary word, creeps into the text and, to my mind, progressively undermines the message [emphasis added]:

It can be no simple thing to open your soul, to bear witness to alleged actions so horrible, so shocking that they have shaken the foundations of our shared beliefs.

Sandusky was the teen’s mentor, a giant of a man in the community in which Victim One was raised. The man’s actions — to tell authorities about years of alleged abuse — took conviction and, above all, courage…

In a way, Victim One represents each of Sandusky’s alleged victims, and epitomizes their individual stories.

Alleged. Yes, of course, it’s a necessary adjective. The case is only just starting to wind its way through the courts. Alleged. Yes, of course, the victim’s courage will be no less if Jerry Sandusky is somehow, miraculously, acquitted. Alleged.

Awkward Meter: It doesn’t get more awkward than this:

For his strength, his bravery and his conviction, we name him, the anonymous Victim One, The Patriot-News’ Newsmaker of the Year. Not just for who he is, but for whom he represents — a group of anonymous men, allegedly victimized by a man once thought to embody the best in us all.

La Cucaracha

Hear the words, “la cucaracha” and you may think of the lively Spanish Mexican song and its associated dance. Sounds like fun. The translation from the Spanish is “the cockroach.” Suddenly not so much fun.

Our topic today is cockroaches. Or actually, cockroach behavior. Perhaps you’ve seen it: you enter a kitchen at night, turn on a light and watch them scramble. Any bright light will do the trick. A flashlight. A spotlight. A match.

Or maybe you’ve tried this: swinging a flashlight through the room. You’ll see cockroaches in places you hadn’t expected. And so it is with the pedophilia reports emerging in the news media. A flashlight is shone at Penn State, but as it swings through the room, there are cockroaches everywhere.

Here’s Mitchell Garabedian, the attorney who took on child sexual abuse accusations against Boston archdiocese priests:

“The sexual abuse revelations at Penn State are a further tip of the sexual abuse iceberg that exists in this country and in the world,” said attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who won millions in settlements for scores of victims preyed on as children by Boston archdiocese priests.

“Victims in many institutions, whether they be educational or otherwise, will come forward to reveal the fact they were sexually abused. What has happened in Penn State has empowered victims, just as the Catholic Church cases have empowered victims to come forward,” he added

The Penn State scandal has indeed empowered additional victims to come forward. Garabedian himself reports taking calls from 10 to 15 people in the wake of the Sandusky revelations; they tell him they were prompted by the Penn State reports. We’ve seen the same impact at Penn State itself, with new victims coming forward against Jerry Sandusky. The spotlight is now on las cucarachas. Watch them scramble.

The Cockroach Effect is not of course a new one. Indeed, we have seen law enforcement purposely use a cockroach approach against selected crime categories or locations. Often to good effect. Some examples:

  • Beginning in the mid-70s, law enforcement increased its focus on forcible rape, in great part because of a burgeoning movement among women to increase awareness and foster an improved police response. The number of reported forcible rapes per capita went from 52 in 1976 to a high of 84 in 1992. Were there more rapes or just better reporting? Evidence suggests social changes removed barriers to reporting rape.
  • Closer to home, we notice how DUI emphasis patrols never fail to bring in a host of arrests. A three week patrol in Pierce County, Washington, netted 287 arrests.
  • A more recent approach is so-called “hot spots policing,” where police use crime mapping to identify crime hot spots, then increase patrols or other police activity to reduce crime in those areas. The results have largely been positive, with decreases in calls for service, varying reductions in crime rates and in one case (Kansas City), both increases in guns seized by police and a decrease in gun crimes.

Our takeaway? The Cockroach Approach, aka Hot Spots Policing, is ideal for focusing laser attention on crimes or neighborhoods too long neglected. It usually takes some combination of scandal, rising crime rates or associated social changes to put these spotlights into effect. Not every crime will rise to the occasion. And sadly some crimes hit the headlines today, only to disappear tomorrow. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have our flashlights always at the ready. Las cucarachas are very persistent.

Here & There

Today’s blog is a grab-bag of stories, culled from a range of sources. We’ve still got crime on our mind.

First up, Frozen Ground film news fresh from Alaska.

  • We have a couple of shots of Nicolas Cage in Anchorage. In this slideshow, Cage is seen on the Frozen Ground set. And what would a Nicolas Cage story be without some smack from gossip site TMZ? Their spy camera captures him purchasing a $2,000 ivory-handled knife.
  • The Anchorage Daily News reports that Alaska filming on “Frozen Ground” could wrap by Friday, November 18 — a one-month shooting schedule.
  • The Alaska backlash against film subsidies, meanwhile, is starting to heat up. More on this issue in another post.

We also have an update on the Mike McQueary story, in what amounts to another round of media counter-attack. I’m guessing anyone who follows the news is already aware of these revelations.

What’s worth comment here is that the basis for much of the reporting is a 23-page grand jury presentment. A summary document. It leaves out details. That gives the folks involved a brief-window to manage the news by releasing self-serving details of their own. My money is still on Sara Ganim, the intrepid reporter who first broke this story.

Justice

(A person charged with a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty.)

Having been in situations where child sexual predators were present — including my Boy Scout Troop — I know a little bit about what’s happened in the Jerry Sandusky case. The wall of silence that kids maintain against adults. The sly protections enacted at the kid level. (“Don’t ride with him. He’ll try to cop a feel.”) The downstream impacts (one of my scoutmaster’s victims later faced criminal charges for similar acts against school children). Although I was never a victim, I felt the effects.

At this point, of course, what is most important is that justice be served. And part of me is wondering whether Pennsylvania authorities are still asleep at the wheel. Specifically, I hope someone is keeping a close eye on Mr. Sandusky. Let’s look at the troubling evidence:

  • When Sandusky was investigated in 1998 (Victim 6), and confronted by the victim’s mother, he was quoted as saying: “I was wrong. I wish I could get forgiveness. I know I won’t get it from you. I wish I were dead.”
  • At Sandusky’s arraignment, he was ordered to have no contact with children. A custody dispute between one of Sandusky’s sons and his wife subsequently spilled over into a temporary order barring Sandusky from being alone with his three grandchildren, who are also banned from overnight visits.
  • After the arraignment, Sandusky’s attorney reported the following: “”He’s shaky, as you can expect,” Joe Amendola told WJAC-TV after Sandusky was arraigned. “Being 67 years old, never having faced criminal charges in his life and having the distinguished career that he’s had, these are very serious allegations.”
  • More recent reports suggest that Sandusky is also “distraught” over Joe Paterno’s forced retirement and other developments at Penn State. “He feels absolutely awful,” Amendola said. “They’re taking down an entire athletic department.”
  • If convicted of the charges filed against him, Sandusky could face life in prison.

Hello, Pennsylvania. Jerry Sandusky’s world is slowly but surely falling apart [1]. As the world closes in on him, he may be at risk. To himself.

Given this background, it is worth noting what transpired when Jerry Sandusky was arraigned. The state Attorney General requested $500,000 bail and an electronic leg monitor. They were clearly worried about Mr. Sandusky. District Judge Leslie Dutchcot instead ordered Sandusky freed on $100,000 unstructured bail, which means he doesn’t have to post any money unless he fails to show up in court. Given the gravity of the charges, this is tantamount to another free pass, although Sandusky’s attorney successfully argued otherwise.

Maybe Mr. Amendola is right. Maybe Jerry Sandusky is no threat to anyone, including himself. I hope so. Because justice requires that Sandusky face the charges against him.

[1] I say slowly because it took almost three years for the Grand Jury to bring back an indictment.