Needing some time to kill in a waiting room this afternoon, I read Malcolm Gladwell’s recent New Yorker piece on Jerry Sandusky and the mind of a pedophile. The piece has a lot of strong reporting, and is often fascinating. But some of its conclusions bothered me: in particular, I was troubled by Gladwell’s seeming sympathy for Joe Paterno and some of his incriminated colleagues at Penn State.
I wasn’t the only one. Once I got home from my doctor’s appointment, I soon saw a piece on Deadspin that shared my concerns. It’s worth not only reading, but diving into the comments as well: Gladwell himself offers a reply.
That comment provides some clarity for what Gladwell was attempting to do, although I still think it’s ultimately unearned. As the Deadspin response notes, there’s simply too much left out here. Gladwell is right to point out how thorny these incidents are, and how we shouldn’t let hindsight blind what we do and do not see in the subsequently investigated moment(s). But that doesn’t seem to forgive the repetition of mistakes made at Penn State.
The piece reminds me about what frequently bothers me as I read Gladwell: that in seeking some new or contrarian stance, too many liberties are taken for the sake of the perspective. I almost feel like I can see the author’s awareness of shaping his own persona in the text. This would be troublesome in any piece of writing, but certainly one like this with such high stakes.