Who's next, bin Laden?
We have seen a witch hunt, and Paterno, the man who in large part made Penn State a national university, has been tossed into a lake, hands tied behind his back.
And he's not coming up for air — not now, maybe not ever.
Penn State's over-reactive board of trustees, a spiteful Pennsylvania governor, hysteria fueled by a sometimes misleading media and of course Jerry Sandusky are principally to blame.
It is Sandusky, who if authorities are correct, is the one who deserves comparisons to the most heinous criminals of our time.
Paterno, who was ousted from his coaching job last week by the trustees, may yet deserve blame, but he deserved due process. Yes, the boys who were sexual assault victims (allegedly) of Sandusky didn't get due process and did not deserve what happened to them either, but Paterno's situation is a separate matter for action. A separate matter that is difficult for people to put aside because of the horrific nature of the charges against Sandusky.
But it should be. For punishing Paterno was a rush to judgment, and he's not even the alleged perpetrator, not charged with any crime or cover-up.
To be clear, I have prayed for the victims, not for Paterno. But … Paterno received no hearing, no interview, no chance to defend himself. There was no internal investigation, no further discovery. The employer caved to outside pressure and relied on a grand jury summary — a prosecutorial document designed to get convictions and to sway public opinion — to cut him loose.
In bouncing Paterno last week, John Surma, the vice chair of Penn State's Board of Trustees, said the trustees "do not yet know all the facts."
Exactly 51 seconds later, Surma, when asked why Paterno was let go, responded: "In consideration of all the facts …"
Talk about an oxymoron. Which one is it? Do you have all the facts or not? And if not, on what are you basing your decision?
Apparently, the trustees must not have had all the facts, because Surma, later in the same news conference, said the trustees do not have all the "actual facts and circumstances."
Let's not let the "actual facts and circumstances" get in the way of a knee-jerk reaction.
I will be accused of unjustly defending Paterno when I am not doing so. I am defending the process, saying to wait and see and let it play out.
I also will be accused of "not getting it." But get this: When "we don't know" and hysteria become the basis for doling out punishment, we're all in trouble. That's not a slippery slope; that's an avalanche crashing down on individual rights.
Shoot first. Get the truth later.
In this case, just get rid of someone who's given 61 years of service.
Unload him without examining his entire grand jury testimony, without interviewing the principals involved.
Without knowing exactly what Mike McQueary, the eyewitness to the 2002 alleged assault involving Sandusky, said to Paterno. Or if McQueary told Paterno in 2002 that police were in fact aware of the incident.
Without knowing Paterno's entire role (which Surma acknowledged) in the reporting or nonreporting of the incident.
Even though that police force, with 46 full-time armed officers and 200 other personnel, is an official police force in Pennsylvania with all of the authority and arrest powers enjoyed by any other municipal police unit in Pennsylvania.
Even though Paterno is not a suspect in the alleged cover-up.
Without knowing if Paterno did follow up with Curley and Schultz about the 2002 incident involving Sandusky.
Without knowing if Curley and Schultz told Paterno that Sandusky was being investigated in 2002.
Just toss out Paterno.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, we learned, was pushing for the trustees to clean house. Why? Because Corbett does not like now-former Penn State President Graham Spanier (who also lost his job). Corbett did not like to do battle with Spanier, who has backed Paterno through the years, over appropriations for the state-related university. Bingo, here's a perfect opportunity for the governor to get rid of his problem and his underlings.
Meanwhile, it turns out that Penn State's trustees admitted to succumbing to media and public pressure.
The claim of public pressure is interesting, because whereas everyone assumes most of the public wanted JoePa to resign, that was not the case at the time he was let go. According to the Poll Position national poll released on the morning of Nov. 9 — Paterno was let go that night — a majority of Americans did not want Paterno to resign.
Which leads us to the media. News organizations — and I'm a member of one — by their nature go for the jugular, and the bigger the target, the bigger the prize.
I heard journalists scoff at polls that concluded the public wanted Paterno to stay on as coach. I heard journalists ridicule Penn State's students for rioting in support of Paterno, saying the students are young and they don't know what they're doing. (So, journalists now can read minds?)
I saw one article that gave the outrageously wrong impression that Penn State officials failed to report the allegations of all eight alleged sexual assault victims. Not even the prosecutors are alleging that. At most, Penn State officials knew of two allegations that were the focus of the grand jury report.
A television story identified Sandusky as a Penn State coach in 2002, when he was not. (Many people erroneously still think that Sandusky targeted his alleged victims through Penn State; but the grand jury report says he did so via his Second Mile charity.)
An NBC News story on the web this week said one of the alleged sexual assaults occurred at Paterno's house. The story was later corrected, but it illustrates the frenzy and misinformation.
Want more hysteria: I recently received a phone call from someone who accused Paterno of being behind the killing of the Centre County district attorney — the one who mysteriously disappeared a few years ago, never to be found.
I'm waiting to see if anyone blames JoePa for Hurricane Katrina, the national deficit and heart disease.
To repeat, let's pray for the victims, not for Paterno. But until we learn more about what most of the principals involved did or did not do — good or bad — Penn State the institution and Sandusky get the blame. And if McQueary is correct in saying he told police about the 2002 incident, then police get a lot of blame, too.
As for Paterno: Unless there was reliable evidence linking him to the alleged cover-up, he should have been allowed to retire after the season.