Column: Now, this is what I call fair & balanced

Even for a news junkie like me, Monday night’s “NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams” was a veritable feast. Where shall we begin?

With the report that Michael Jackson’s doctor had been convicted of involuntary manslaughter? Or the piece on alleged sexual abuse of young boys at Penn State? Or might you prefer Herman Cain coming under fire (again) for alleged sexual harassment? Or, last but not least, the evening news’ closing segment on the Yale quarterback who must choose between his team and a Rhodes Scholarship?

In these trying times, I have deliberately and diligently refrained from getting sucked into the prattle that is the reason for existence of the 24/7 talk/scream shows on Fox, MSNBC, CNN, etc. But I trust Brian Williams to give me the straight story, without any partisan embellishments, and on Monday night he delivered.

In no particular order:

• The Yale QB is Patrick Witt, a scholar-athlete under consideration for a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. His dilemma is that the date of his scholarship interview in Atlanta — Saturday, Nov. 19 — is the same day as “The Game” in New Haven, Conn., Harvard versus Yale, perhaps the most historic rivalry in all college football.

So let’s get this straight: the Rhodes committee wants him to abandon his teammates and miss perhaps the most important game of his college career in order to attend an interview he’s invited to because he’s a distinguished scholar-athlete?

What, they couldn’t give him a rain check? Or interview him following the game via Skype? I know winning a Rhodes Scholarship is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but so, too, is playing in “The Game.” That the scholarship committee has put him in the position of having to chose one over the other is simply outrageous.

Brian Williams said Patrick Witt hasn’t yet decided what he’ll do a week from Saturday. But I know what I’d do if I were in his place: tell those Rhodes dudes to stuff their scholarship. Then I’d go out and kick some Harvard butt and sign a multi-million-dollar contract to play in the NFL.

• The real tragedy of the mess at Penn State — other than the victimization of the young boys reportedly assaulted by a former assistant varsity football coach — is the reality that soon-to-be-ex head coach Joe Paterno’s legendary career will be forever tainted by this episode. And so it should be, if preliminary reports that he knew about the alleged abuse but failed to report it to civil authorities prove to be true.

That there might have been an institutional tendency at Penn State to turn a blind eye to signs of pedophilia in the locker room and elsewhere comes as no real surprise. It’s not uncommon, in the world of youth athletics, to see adults in a position of authority taking vulnerable or at-risk children under their wing, and sometimes, sadly, the adult’s motivation is anything but charitable.

• The conviction of Michael Jackson’s personal physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, came as no real surprise. But I was taken aback by the fact that he was handcuffed in the courtroom and remanded to jail without bail until his sentencing, set for Nov. 29. Judge Michael Pastor said Dr. Murray poses a threat to society at large, and that makes me wonder: how so?

Is he likely to roam the streets of Los Angeles, hypodermic needle in hand, seeking to inject unsuspecting pedestrians with Jackson’s so-called “milk,” the surgical anesthetic propofol? Nice try, Your Honor, but something tells me you were just posturing for the cameras.

• Finally, there is the latest chapter in the bizarre saga of that loose cannon Herman Cain. I’m still trying to figure out why this guy is being taken seriously, and a friend of mine had the best explanation yet: Cain is one of us, a plain-spoken, slightly misinformed everyman who’s mad as hell and isn’t going to take it anymore. So what if he shoots from the hip, flip flops on a dime, wings it as he goes? Why, he’s one of us!

I have a personal theory as to why Cain still is on the scene — the leading candidate for the GOP presidential nomination, for Pete’s sake! — months after his 15 minutes of fame should have rightfully expired. It’s because he’s that rarest of candidates, an African-American Republican, and because Barack Obama paved the way for white Americans to view black Americans in a whole new context.

And as for Cain’s latest imbroglio, the one having to do with allegations that he is guilty of serial sexual harassment of women, here again Brian Williams had the last word when he reported that a forth victim had come fourth to accuse Cain publicly.

And you know what “they” say, don’t you? If two is company and three’s a crowd, then four’s an orgy.

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