in journalism, Uncategorized

The New York Times’ Bizarre Jerry Sandusky Interview

After Bob Costas obliterated Jerry Sandusky’s reputation in a well-executed but troubling interview, one would think that we wouldn’t need to hear too much more about the matter from the man himself. Costas’ questions were pointed, relentless, and well-researched. Sandusky’s failure to provide even a moderately plausible explanation for his prosecution (and persecution) spoke volumes.

But today, the New York Times published a front-page story on Sandusky, featuring an interview with Jo Becker. The interview is bizarre, to say the least. Becker seems less interested in getting at the truth than in 1) trying to help Sandusky find justifications/explanations for his imprudent behaviors, and 2) giving Sandusky a massive mouthpiece with which to tell his side of the story. Commenters on the piece are lining up to complain about Becker’s softball questions. And as a side note, I can’t imagine this interview helps Sandusky’s cause any (Seriously, WTF is his lawyer thinking? Unless he’s playing some kind of circuitous, long game here…).

I’m not too familiar with Becker’s work. But if I may go out on a limb here, I think I can understand the motivation behind such a piece. It felt like Becker was trying to get inside the mind of a pedophile and try to make us understand his plight and condition. There is some value for society in this; if we can’t understand monstrosity, how can we ever hope to contain or stop it? But I’m also reminded of this important column about the Sandusky scandal by priest James Martin. In the column, Martin argues that pedophiles often exhibit two tendencies: grandiosity and narcissism. When the pedophile is discovered, these two qualities often fuse together:

The grandiose narcissist now focuses almost exclusively on his own suffering. His removal from office, or from ministry, he believes, is the worst thing that has happened to anyone, and he (or she) laments this fate loudly and frequently. Because of his narcissism he focuses almost entirely on his own troubles; because of his grandiosity he inflates them to ridiculous proportions. He suffers the most. This is the “Poor Me” Syndrome.

Even more dangerous: he draws others into his net, and the suffering of the real victims, those whose lives have been shattered, is overlooked-even by otherwise intelligent and well-meaning people. The focus of those within the institution is shifted onto the person they know, rather than the victims that they may not know.

We cannot allow this to happen. Today’s NYTimes interview does not help.