The Loughlin case exposes the justice system’s double standards
Across America, parents are tucking their children into bed at night knowing that two “Menaces to Society” are off the streets. “Full House” star Lori Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, are going to “the Big House” for their part in the College Admissions Scandal.
The sentences came down on Friday. Last May, the couple pleaded guilty to paying $500,000 in bribes to get their daughters admitted to the University of Southern California via an “in” with the crew team, although the girls never actually took part in that rowing sport.
Obviously, cheating and lying to get your kids into college is dead wrong. News anchors and pundits of all ilks responded to the sentences this past week by asking, “Is it enough? … Did they get off too easy?” And so I may be the only soul in America to offer this particular analysis: The reaction to the offense is not commensurate with the crime. The punishment seems out of whack to me, compared to far more alarming and dangerous misdeeds.
Allow me to explain. I have an acquaintance whose child graduated from Harvard three decades ago. Years later, he told me that if a student trying to get into a prestigious university didn’t fill a particular quota, then a “donation” was understood as necessary to sweeten the application and win admittance. “A large donation,” he said, adding, “How do you think I got my son into Harvard?” I had the gall to ask, “How much?” and — mind you, this was on the order of 30 years ago — he told me: “About $25,000.”
What he was saying is that parents long have known that if they pay enough money to the right people, they might be able to buy a spot for their kids in college, not based on merit or across-the-board standards that are applied to all. It seems to me that’s very much the same syndrome as the Hollywood Caper … only without the middleman. Add the middleman, apparently, and it’s suddenly treated like the Crime of the Century.
And another thing: I haven’t heard anybody talk about the role of one major party in this equation — the academic institutions themselves. The cost and competition at these institutions is out of control; they breed an environment where admission can be bought. Surely, important people at colleges involved knew that children of famous or powerful, rich people were calling. It would be surprising if some college officials didn’t understand some of the details in these cases. Were they willfully ignorant?
In the bigger picture, the case also exposes a justice system rife with double standards. Look around today and, in some places, violent mobs who attack and injure citizens and police officers aren’t even picked up because prosecutors have no intention of prosecuting them. Most of us can think of public officials who have been referred for major crimes in which all of us were technically victims — national security was said to be jeopardized, constitutional rights were violated — but they were excused for all kinds of reasons.
So, you may ask: What would have been appropriate punishment for the Hollywood Bonnie and Clyde? Well, one could imagine their children getting ousted from college, stripped of any credits, and the parents being required to perform community service. And, if it were possible to identify victims in the case, such as two students who were not admitted to the University of Southern California because their places were taken by the Loughlin kids, restitution could be paid to them in the form of tuition to the school in question or another college of their choice. If no specific victims could be identified, the offending parents could pay a large fine that would establish scholarships for some of those who cannot afford to buy themselves a spot at a fancy college.
All of these options would have made a lot more sense and been a lot more helpful to society than spending at the rate of roughly $81,000 per year (the rate in California) in taxpayer money to incarcerate a mom and dad who have poor judgment and a sense of entitlement — but no prior criminal records, no history of violence, and who pose no physical threat to anyone.
A final irony is that some commentators celebrating the sentencing of the Tinsel Town Crooks are quick to argue that our overcrowded, overtaxed prisons and jails should be emptied of nonviolent offenders. If ever a crime fits into that category, this is the one. But, in the end, American justice proves swift for some offenders. For others, it never comes.
Sharyl Attkisson (@SharylAttkisson) is an Emmy-winning investigative journalist, author of The New York Times best-sellers “The Smear” and “Stonewalled,” and host of Sinclair’s Sunday TV program, “Full Measure.”