Elisabeth Meinecke

I have a question for America: why don't we hold our attorney generals to the same standard we hold our college football coaches?

As I was trying to follow two top news stories yesterday--the developments in Attorney General Eric Holder's testimony on Capitol Hill regarding Operation Fast and Furious, and the implosion of the Joe Paterno era at Penn State University--I was amazed at the double standard that the court of public opinion displayed. The level of accountability demanded in one case seemed to be woefully absent from the next.

Allow me to explain.

What happened at Penn State -- or what seems pretty likely to have happened at Penn State -- is sick. It's disgusting. And people reacted strongly to it. The main headline of that reaction didn't even involve the man who committed the crime. It involved the man under whose watch, whose program and whose school the crimes were committed.  Many people have argued--despite the students who rallied in support of him yesterday--that Penn State head coach and football legend Joe Paterno had no excuse for not knowing or doing more about the molestation of boys by one of his coaches (it makes you sick to type about it, actually). People are saying that it's not enough that Paterno should leave at the end of the year. Bottom line: it's his program, and he's accountable. He should go now.

But across the news cycle, this cry for accountability seemed to vanish when applied to a similar situation in the political world, a place where a program cost someone his life and responsibility always seemed to be the job of someone else. Operation Fast and Furious, as Townhall's Katie Pavlich has documented, was a program under the Department of Justice from 2009 to 2010. Its mismanagement and corruption cost at least 200 Mexicans their lives, as well as the life of a U.S. border agent. That is a hefty body count. Yet Attorney General Eric Holder, in that position from 2009 till now, has claimed he knew nothing of it till 2011 (and his story has changed at least once on when the program was brought to his attention). He has refused to apologize to the border agent's family. There hasn't been a grand cleaning of house sweep that people are hinting could happen in the Penn State situation. There were a couple reassignments. In fact, a few people got a promotion. One guy, the acting ATF director, got a demotion but remained in the Justice Department.  The U.S. Attorney for Arizona resigned.

The cries for Eric Holder's resignation have been limited to the NRA and a few members of Congress. They have not dominated the court of public opinion.

But shouldn't Holder be just as guilty by the standards people are using to judge Joe Paterno?

It's not a political thing. In both cases, there were sickening results: a man dead in one, children taken advantage of and scarred in another. Joe Paterno was not guilty of the act himself. Nor was Eric Holder responsible for shooting U.S. border agent Brian Terry. But both men were in charge of the programs  (Holder even more so, since he heads the DOJ and Paterno had a bureaucratic university system behind him). And the excuse doesn't hold water that the DOJ is a lot bigger than Penn State. Just because something is on a grander scale doesn't mean the person in charge has any less accountability. Less knowledge, perhaps. Less accountability, no.

I'm just surprised that the American people who want to see the Paterno situation so clearly aren't also turning the spotlight on Holder.


Elisabeth Meinecke

Elisabeth Meinecke is TOWNHALL MAGAZINE Managing Editor. Follow her on Twitter @lismeinecke.