Here at the In Box, we’ve grappled at length with the travails of traditionalist organizations caught up in long-running child-sex scandals.
Again and again, the institutional shame isn’t the crime — pedophilia, rape and sexual assault can happen anywhere, anytime– but in the coverup, and the fact that people in positions of power allowed children to be abused for so long.
From the Roman Catholic church to the Church of England to the Boy Scouts, finding the truth has taken far, far too long.
Even the hallowed halls of college sports arenas proved vulnerable to the self-serving coverup.
But it’s important and only fair to acknowledge, and speak bluntly, when similar woeful crimes occur in a modernist, secular institution — and this time the shame of cover-up falls very close to home indeed.
The BBC is sort of a sister organization to America’s public radio network. NCPR and most other public radio stations in the US carry at least some of the British Broadcasting Corporation’s programming.
For decades, “the Beeb” has been the gold standard of journalistic rectitude, honesty, self-examination and transparency. Or so we thought.
It turns out the network — along with a lot of respected British institutions — turned a blind eye to the predatory nastiness of Jimmy Savile, a popular radio and television personality who allegedly assaulted hundreds of young girls over a span of three decades.
Network executives turned a blind eye to his behavior and engaged in a cover-up when a documentary about his purported crimes was censored. That bit of skulduggery is still being investigated.
Meanwhile, one of the BBC’s flagship news programs, “Newsnight,” appeared cheerfully eager to report on allegations of child-sex abuse on the part of a British Conservative politicians.
It turns out, the BBC got that story woefully wrong and was forced to apologize “unreservedly for having broadcast this report.” The network has put Newnight on hiatus, roughly the equivalent of putting “60 Minutes” in a time-out.
The BBC’s top executive, George Entwistle, has resigned, and it appears likely that far more severe consequences will follow.
The take-away is clear. The leaders of any organization — conservative, liberal, traditional, modern — are vulnerable to thinking that their careers and their institutions are more important than the well-being and safety of children.
That is a sad and astonishing but unavoidable fact about human nature. People who should know better seem remarkably blithe about setting aside the most obvious moral function of any society — protecting kids.
Even organizations that lack the cloistered, hierarchical and sex-averse trappings of many churches and other traditionalist organizations are capable of turning away, of accepting upside-down priorities.
Here in the U.S., the only logical and decent response is to toughen laws criminalizing neglect and cover-ups that leave children vulnerable.
We should eliminate statutes of limitation and we should approve severe penalties — for individuals and institutions — for those who enable child rape.
Meanwhile, my hope as a journalist is that the BBC will return to its roots as a truth-telling organization, revealing fully and completely how this horror was allowed to go on, and turning over all relevant information to police.
Perhaps with that insight, the proper people can be punished, and we can all learn more about how to prevent this kind of nightmare from recurring.