Malcolm Gladwell defends child abuse theory

Sports blog Deadspin isn't buying the pop sociologist's take. The author responded in the comments section

Topics: Sexual abuse, Penn State, Jerry Sandusky, deadspin,

Deadspin‘s Dom Cosentino has challenged Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker article on “How child molesters get away with it.” Gladwell suggests  that child molesters are professional people-pleasers, expert at insinuating themselves in trusted places in the lives of their victims and their victims’ circle.  This is all more or less true at the 5,000-foot level, but in an effort to build a cohesive theory around the case of Jerry Sandusky, Cosentino says Gladwell misrepresents aspects of the case. This type of criticism is not foreign to Gladwell, the buzzword-neologizing journalist who can make you think you’re thinking without thinking at all.

Cosentino writes:

Gladwell is right that Jerry Sandusky had a public persona that could fool anyone. He was a successful defensive coordinator, the man who made Penn State into Linebacker U. He was the trusted lieutenant of Joe Paterno, famous for his own rectitude. And Sandusky had founded a charity to help underprivileged youth. Why would anyone suspect he was a monster?

But Penn State officials were dealing with more than first impressions. And to try to fit the Sandusky case into his story of how regular people are manipulated by molesters, Gladwell leaves out a number of facts that indicated that Penn State officials seemed to understand what they were dealing with.

Cosentino then demonstrates how Gladwell is overstating the confusion or naivete of several people — a police detective, a child psychologist and an assistant coach who knew Sandusky —  by using case files and court testimony to show otherwise. In the end, Cosentino restates the obvious rather than the counterintuitive: Child molesters are creepy and hard to identify, yes, but there was also a major institutional and individual failing on many levels, which included covering up heinous crimes.

Gladwell responded in the comments section:



Thanks for the piece Dom. (This is Malcolm Gladwell, by the way). I guess my response is that I have a lot less faith than you in the credibility of things people say to grand juries, when their reputations are on the line. McCreary, for example, says now that he witnessed something sexual. But what he told his family friend Dranov, at the time, was something a lot more vague. Schreffler says now that he thought there was enough evidence to press charges. But he would say that—wouldn’t he? Do you honestly believe he would stand up in front of a grand jury investigating Sandusky for child molestation and admit that he was confused in 1998? And Lauro says today he would certainly have suspected Sandusky, had he seen the Chambers report. Really? You mean — he would have happily jettisoned his own independent analysis of Sandusky the minute he heard that someone else had a different opinion? I’m not familiar with psychologists who behave that way. There is an awful lot of after-the-fact rationalization going on here, in other words, and I think we have to be careful in how we interpret these kinds of self-serving memories — which goes to the point of my piece. Child molestation cases are really really hard. They bring out the worse in all of us. Nobody wants to see the truth. Everyone is looking for a less damning way to explain away the facts. I suspect you and I are in agreement on that.

Cosentino fires back with the testimony, and concludes “That, to me, isn’t an indication these men were confused. It tells me they intended to deceive.”

Prachi Gupta

Prachi Gupta is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on pop culture. Follow her on Twitter at @prachigu or email her at pgupta@salon.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 7
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    AP/Jae C. Hong

    Your summer in extreme weather

    California drought

    Since May, California has faced a historic drought, resulting in the loss of 63 trillion gallons of water. 95.4 percent of the state is now experiencing "severe" drought conditions, which is only a marginal improvement from 97.5 percent last week.

    A recent study published in the journal Science found that the Earth has actually risen about 0.16 inches in the past 18 months because of the extreme loss of groundwater. The drought is particularly devastating for California's enormous agriculture industry and will cost the state $2.2 billion this year, cutting over 17,000 jobs in the process.

       

    Meteorologists blame the drought on a large zone (almost 4 miles high and 2,000 miles long) of high pressure in the atmosphere off the West Coast which blocks Pacific winter storms from reaching land. High pressure zones come and go, but this one has been stationary since December 2012.

    Darin Epperly

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Great Plains tornadoes

    From June 16-18 this year, the Midwest was slammed by a series of four tornadoes, all ranking as category EF4--meaning the winds reached up to 200 miles per hour. An unlucky town called Pilger in Nebraska was hit especially hard, suffering through twin tornadoes, an extreme event that may only occur every few decades. The two that swept through the town killed two people, injured 16 and demolished as many as 50 homes.   

    "It was terribly wide," local resident Marianne Pesotta said to CNN affiliate KETV-TV. "I drove east [to escape]. I could see how bad it was. I had to get out of there."   

    But atmospheric scientist Jeff Weber cautions against connecting these events with climate change. "This is not a climate signal," he said in an interview with NBC News. "This is a meteorological signal."

    AP/Detroit News, David Coates

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Michigan flooding

    On Aug. 11, Detroit's wettest day in 89 years -- with rainfall at 4.57 inches -- resulted in the flooding of at least five major freeways, leading to three deaths, more than 1,000 cars being abandoned on the road and thousands of ruined basements. Gov. Rick Snyder declared it a disaster. It took officials two full days to clear the roads. Weeks later, FEMA is finally set to begin assessing damage.   

    Heavy rainfall events are becoming more and more common, and some scientists have attributed the trend to climate change, since the atmosphere can hold more moisture at higher temperatures. Mashable's Andrew Freedman wrote on the increasing incidence of this type of weather: "This means that storms, from localized thunderstorms to massive hurricanes, have more energy to work with, and are able to wring out greater amounts of rain or snow in heavy bursts. In general, more precipitation is now coming in shorter, heavier bursts compared to a few decades ago, and this is putting strain on urban infrastructure such as sewer systems that are unable to handle such sudden influxes of water."

    AP/The Fresno Bee, Eric Paul Zamora

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Yosemite wildfires

    An extreme wildfire burning near Yosemite National Park forced authorities to evacuate 13,000 nearby residents, while the Madera County sheriff declared a local emergency. The summer has been marked by several wildfires due to California's extreme drought, which causes vegetation to become perfect kindling.   

    Surprisingly, however, firefighters have done an admirable job containing the blazes. According to the L.A. Times, firefighters with the state's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection have fought over 4,000 fires so far in 2014 -- an increase of over 500 fires from the same time in 2013.

    Reuters/Eugene Tanner

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Hawaii hurricanes

    Hurricane Iselle was set to be the first hurricane to make landfall in Hawaii in 22 years. It was downgraded to a tropical storm and didn't end up being nearly as disastrous as it could have been, but it still managed to essentially shut down the entire state for a day, as businesses and residents hunkered down in preparation, with many boarding up their windows to guard against strong gusts. The storm resulted in downed trees, 21,000 people out of power and a number of damaged homes.

    Debbie Arita, a local from the Big Island described her experience: "We could hear the wind howling through the doors. The light poles in the parking lot were bobbing up and down with all the wind and rain."

    Reuters/NASA

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Florida red tide

    A major red tide bloom can reach more than 100 miles along the coast and around 30 miles offshore. Although you can't really see it in the above photo, the effects are devastating for wildlife. This summer, Florida was hit by an enormous, lingering red tide, also known as a harmful algae bloom (HAB), which occurs when algae grow out of control. HABs are toxic to fish, crabs, octopuses and other sea creatures, and this one resulted in the death of thousands of fish. When the HAB gets close enough to shore, it can also have an effect on air quality, making it harder for people to breathe.   

    The HAB is currently closest to land near Pinellas County in the Gulf of Mexico, where it is 5-10 miles offshore.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>