The Nation's Pulse

Upon Further Review…

How the media does love its monsters.

By 11.21.11

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The media got an early Christmas gift from Jerry Sandusky, who fills the hideous monster vacuum that had developed after Osama Bin Laden was slain.

How the media does love its monsters. After Bin Laden, the monster niche was neatly filled by Dominique Strauss-Kahn (almost forgotten now, relegated to media monster purgatory.) Prior to DSK we had folk villain Bernie Madoff, after which Michael Vick's head was served to us on a platter. Prior to Vick came loony monster Mel Gibson, preceded by Timothy McVeigh, the Unabomber and, to be sure, O.J. Simpson, a sort of monster emeritus. Qadaffi was October monster of the month, giving way to Sandusky.

Pedophile priests were a collective monster. And let us not forget assorted sex monsters John Edwards, Casey Anthony, and Scott Peterson; all had their wretched moment in the sun. Rupert Murdoch, who achieved quasi-monster status, still remains at large.

Sandusky is almost a legend if measured by the media monster gauge. He gained new status as our reigning national monster thanks to saturation coverage in the New York Times, which painted him as a sort of once-beloved Paul Bunyan gone awry. A lead story, headlined "The Sandusky They Knew," had a subhead reading, "Residents of His Hometown Weigh the Charges Against Their Memories." Jerry, we hardly knew ye! (Meanwhile, the fall of super-coach Joe Paterno has provided a hand-wringing sidebar.)

Nobody can claim to be a certified national monster until they meet certain basic requirements. Your ideal media monster should have once been a revered citizen (Sandusky, Strauss-Kahn, Madoff, Edwards, O.J., sundry priests), or at least the guy next door (McVeigh, Vick, Peterson), or, at the very least, A Guy Who Kept to Himself Nobody Really Knew Very Well (Ted Kaczynski, the teenage Columbine shooters).

One reason TV can't get enough of a guy like Jerry Sandusky is that he makes television look saintly by comparison, plus he provides a certified evil persona everyone can freely vilify and columnists and editorial writers can crank out fist-shaking, breast-beating, sanctimonious sermons about. One sports writer said that Penn State should abandon its football program -- forever. Nobody so far has suggested that Pennsylvania secede from the union, but it's early yet. Meanwhile, how long before Sandusky, Ohio changes its name?

The horrified media, from the National Star to Anderson Cooper, suddenly dropped the previous week's world-shaking stories ("breaking news" about Kim Kardashian's divorce, Justin Bieber's alleged love child, and Michael Jackson's doctor) to decamp on the Penn State campus, combing the streets of State College, Pa., for the slightest whiff of a new fact about Sandusky to justify the hot pursuit as if hunting down Adolf Eichmann.

Meanwhile, lynch mobs are forming on radio talk shows, where callers and hosts labor to outdo each other in expressing their outrage and demand for swift justice, calling for as many heads to roll as possible. One Pennsylvania man told a reporter that hearing about Sandusky had left "a hole in his heart" comparable to news of JFK's assassination.

TV interviewers like Piers Morgan and Nancy Grace sputter and froth as they refer to "horrific acts," "egregious conduct" and "unspeakable, repugnant behavior," so upset they can hardly get the words out. But, alas, they do.

Until someone more wicked comes along, Jerry Sandusky should keep the media drooling through Thanksgiving, carving up the latest national monster to satisfy America's insatiable appetite. By the way, has anyone seen Charley Sheen lately? 

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About the Author

Gerald Nachman is the author of Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s, Raised on Radio and Right Here On Our Stage Tonight!: Ed Sullivan's America. He is currently working on a book about the great Broadway musical show-stoppers.