Politicians and Penn State? Pass.

The presidential candidates have nothing to add to this scandal

Last night, Sarah Palin told Fox News’s Greta Van Susteren that if it were up to her to deal with Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State coach accused of child sex abuse, she’d:

Hang him from the highest tree and I’ll bring the rope if he is guilty of what has been alleged.

The fullest extent of the law, of course, would never permit a rope-toting Palin to get anywhere close to Sandusky, but instead sentence the former coach to life in prison.

Since Palin has taken herself out of the presidential race and joined the ranks of pundits, she’s in a fine position to issue comments that don’t make any sense about a matter that has nothing to do with her. But it’s weirder when journalists ask real politicians about the Penn State scandal.

Besides having nothing to do with the presidential race, it’s safe to say at this point there’s a national consensus on child sex abusers and the Penn State scandal. It doesn’t take too savvy a politician to get this one right in the eyes of the public (and yet Palin still missed that large target of safe and acceptable opinion).

Palin is hardly the only national political figure this week to have been lobbed the Penn State question—a local matter, don’t let those mentions of a Congressional inquiry fool you—and an invitation to grandstand.

Over the weekend, Meet the Press’s David Gregory asked Republican presidential hopeful Michelle Bachmann:

MR. GREGORY: There’s a, there’s a lot to discuss on the campaign trail. But I have to ask you first about this horrible events—series of events at Penn State and ask you whether you think, as a national figure, whether there is a role for Congress to pay—play in investigating this, where you think the national conversation has to go from here on what has happened at Penn State.

Bachmann didn’t get immediately to his question and said, among other things, “I think my automatic reaction would be, even though I’m a small woman, I’d want to go find that guy and beat him to a pulp.” (She later said Congress has too many other things to do and that the scandal should remain a state issue).

Obama and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney have also been asked about Penn State, while Newt Gingrich invoked the ‘tragedy’ on the Laura Ingraham show.

Pennsylvanian politicians and particularly Rick Santorum, a Penn State alum who once sponsored Sandusky for a ‘Congressional Angels in Adoption’ award have received more questions than the rest. This makes sense, to a degree, and Santorum has made sure to make the most of this unusual media moment. He has announced he’s “devastated” and yesterday made a splash when he claimed that Penn State should be banned from bowl play this year.

To an outraged public, that’s probably a smart answer. But to voters, it’s just one that shouldn’t matter.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Erika Fry is a former assistant editor at CJR.