NBC Uses Penn State Scandal to Slam Catholic Church

On Wednesday's NBC Nightly News, anchor Brian Williams followed a report on the child sex abuse scandal at Penn State University by drawing this comparison: "A lot of people watching this scandal unfold at Penn State, watching the human damage pile up, watching an institution get badly soiled, can't help but think of the scandal that rocked the Catholic Church in America. There are a lot of parallels."  

In the full report that followed, correspondent Anne Thompson gratuitously used the opportunity to slam the Church: "Almost ten years ago, the Boston Globe broke the story of priests abusing minors and the cover-up by Church officials, shattering the Archdiocese and the faith of many American Catholics. One of its reporters sees parallels in the Penn State case....Critics say these are institutions of power, secrecy, mythology, dominated by men who circled the wagons in a crisis."

In the report, a sound bite was included from David Clohessy of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests: "We, as a society, have to learn that we must come down like a ton of bricks on men who hide and ignore child sex crimes. Quiet resignations, sudden retirements, that doesn't cut it."

However, Clohessy himself failed to report to police child sexual abuse allegations against his brother, a Catholic priest, in the 1990s. Thompson failed to mention that fact.

Near the end of the segment, Thompson revealed the source of the Penn State/Catholic Church comparison: "In today's New York Times, Jonathan Mahler writes both the Church and Penn State, 'In the face of a moral imperative to act, chose silence,' failing to live up to their own ideals of integrity and honor."

In that article, Mahler declared:

A better comparison would be the sexual molestation scandals that rocked another insular, all-male institution, the Roman Catholic Church. The parallels are too striking to ignore. A suspected predator who exploits his position to take advantage of his young charges. The trusting colleagues who don’t want to believe it – and so don't. Even confronted with convincing proof, they choose to protect their institution's reputation....This was the dynamic that pervaded the Catholic clerical culture during its sexual abuse scandals, and it seems to have been no less pervasive at Penn State.  


Here is a full transcript of Thompson's November 9 report:

7:04PM ET

BRIAN WILLIAMS: A lot of people watching this scandal unfold at Penn State, watching the human damage pile up, watching an institution get badly soiled, can't help but think of the scandal that rocked the Catholic Church in America. There are a lot of parallels. Our report tonight from NBC's Anne Thompson.

ANNE THOMPSON: Penn State football is the latest institution to learn the high cost of silence. Just as the Boy Scouts of America did, losing a multi-million dollar sex abuse case last year.

PAUL MONES [SEXUAL ABUSE ATTORNEY]: No jury has returned a verdict against the Boy Scouts of America of this level ever.

THOMPSON: And most notoriously, the Catholic Church.

TOM BROKAW [MARCH 2002 NIGHTLY NEWS]: Accusations of a cover-up against yet another powerful member of the Catholic hierarchy

THOMPSON: Almost ten years ago, the Boston Globe broke the story of priests abusing minors and the cover-up by Church officials, shattering the Archdiocese and the faith of many American Catholics. One of its reporters sees parallels in the Penn State case.

KEVIN CULLEN [THE BOSTON GLOBE]: The institution overrode the importance of taking care of children. And that's what happened here, too. And it happened all over the country when it came to the abuse of children by Catholic priests.

THOMPSON: Critics say these are institutions of power, secrecy, mythology, dominated by men who circled the wagons in a crisis.

DAVID CLOHESSY [SURVIVORS NETWORK OF THOSE ABUSED BY PRIESTS]: We, as a society, have to learn that we must come down like a ton of bricks on men who hide and ignore child sex crimes. Quiet resignations, sudden retirements, that doesn't cut it.

THOMPSON: In today's New York Times, Jonathan Mahler writes both the Church and Penn State, "In the face of a moral imperative to act, chose silence," failing to live up to their own ideals of integrity and honor. No one more so, says Mahler, than Coach Joe Paterno, who built his brand on those very values.

JONATHAN MAHLER: This man who had prided himself on molding young men, who was this sort of paragon of character and virtue, behaved like a coward.

THOMPSON: Tonight people are asking how a program like Penn State, that followed NCAA rules to the letter, couldn't follow a very basic human rule. When you think you see a child being sexually abused, call the police. Anne Thompson, NBC News, Washington.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC