I looked around the Internet on Monday night, shortly after the phone interview between accused child rapist Jerry Sandusky and NBC's Bob Costas that provided what will probably become a few of America's most famous seconds of dead air.
To Mr. Costas's question, “Are you sexually attracted to underage boys?” Mr. Sandusky answered, “Am I sexually attracted to underage boys?” Pause. “Sexually attracted? No, you know, I enjoy young people. I love to be around them. But no, I'm not sexually attracted to young boys.”
Now, everyone knows that when a person repeats a question, he's buying time to construct an answer. And that the only correct, instinctive-as-a-blink answer to that question is something like “No!” In certain situations, I'd even say that a man could, with impunity, punch a man for asking him such a question. Instead, Mr. Sandusky answered that question in the reluctant tone of a person on a diet who's “trying to be good” but who has just been offered another slice of cake.
The Internet is thick with 9/11 truthers, moon-landing skeptics and UFO hunters. There's a blog devoted to proving the existence of Bigfoot by showing the damage that Bigfoot causes to shrubs on his apparently daily rambles through the Midwestern states. Picture after picture of broken twigs make the case that Bigfoot is alive (and arboreally callous).
And yet there, on the Net, in the land of flat-Earthers, over by the grassy knoll near Area 51, I couldn't find a single person who believed after that interview that Mr. Sandusky was innocent, as we're asked to believe former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno did.
To be fair to Mr. Paterno, he didn't have a grand-jury report with a 40-count indictment before him when (best-case scenario) he made the dubious call of Mr. Sandusky's innocence.
Anyone with a stake, real or perceived, in salvaging Mr. Paterno's reputation will have to hope that he determined without a doubt that Mr. Sandusky was being falsely accused in 2002 when, according to testimony, then-graduate-assistant Mike McQueary said he had seen Mr. Sandusky anally raping a boy aged about 10 in Penn State's football showers.
This allegation apparently morphed as it was further reported. Athletic director Tim Curley says he was told by Mr. Paterno that Mr. McQueary had seen Mr. Sandusky “fondling or doing something of a sexual nature to a young boy.”
Mr. McQueary testified that he had repeated the specific, arguably unforgettable, allegation of anal rape of a child at a meeting with Mr. Curley and Penn State's senior vice-president for finance and business, Gary Schultz. Yet those two testified that they were given the impression that some non-sexual “horsing around” (Mr. Curley) had occurred, or that “Sandusky might have inappropriately grabbed the young boy's genitals while wrestling” (Mr. Shultz).
The university's president testified he had heard that something that had “made a member of Curley's staff ‘uncomfortable'” had occurred.
It's as if no one was listening. At any rate, no school-reputation-damaging legal investigation occurred. Instead, Mr. Sandusky's locker-room key was confiscated and he was told not to bring children from his charity for underprivileged boys onto campus any more. The only thing more passive would have been to put up a sign in the showers saying, “No raping.”
Did Mr. Sandusky lose his job over this? No. He couldn't, because back in 1999, at the youthful age of 55, one year after he was investigated for (sigh) the sexual abuse of a child, he had unexpectedly retired – with all the perks and campus access of a coach emeritus.
Charges were never filed then either, although he was found to have showered with three boys and essentially confessed to one of their mothers.
Given its scope, the size of the community and the number of agencies involved, it's almost unfathomable that Joe Paterno, god-about-campus, didn't know of that investigation.
All of which is why I blanched over not just the student riots at Penn State over their “loss” of “JoePa,” but at the candlelight vigil for the victims of abuse held later: Judging from their tweets from that vigil, many students at Penn State seem to think I'm a lot more concerned about their ability “to heal” than I am.
“Why isn't the media covering this?!” many tweeted.
I watched, but I didn't think that they should have been holding hands and singing Imagine. At least not yet. Maybe they should have read the harrowing grand-jury report aloud instead, and asked themselves difficult questions – like, is it really possible that Joe Paterno is more credulous than the Internet?