Steubenville Rape Trial: CNN in Hot Water After Show Of Pity For Rapists


CNN is facing backlash from its sympathetic breaking news coverage of the guilty verdict for Trent Mays, 17, and Ma’lik Richmond, 16, in the Steubenville rape trial. Is the flak warranted? Why is it that CNN is getting hit hard (to the point that an online petition has started circulating) with demands for the network’s apology? Why does a quick trip to their Facebook page concerning the coverage is swamped with hate?

The answers lie in the facet of jock culture that transformed into rape culture during the length of this case. The very definition of rape culture as defined by is the notion that "people are surrounded with images, language, laws, and other everyday phenomena that validate and perpetuate rape." CNN’s packaged use of words and video to cover the final act of the Steubenville debacle didn't come off as well-rounded journalism, but as a show of pity for these otherwise "good" boys who made one grave mistake — the latter trailing as a side thought rather than as the main angle. While CNN’s intention may not have been to apologize for the crime committed by any means, the interpretation of their coverage was disturbing enough to trigger such a strong reaction. And for that, CNN ought to take responsibility and apologize. Such an apology would be embarrassing for the brand, certainly, but it would send a definite message for all news outlets in the future against perpetuating ideas of rape culture.

Anchor Candy Crowley’s lead in to the story including phrasing such as "two star high school football players." From Crowley, the story then went to CNN reporter Poppy Harlow reporting live from Steubenville, who described watching the verdict come down on convicted rapists as "incredibly emotional" and "incredibly difficult" to watch. She goes on to note that Mays and Richmond had "promising futures," were "star football players," and "very good students." CNN went on to show footage of the convicted apologizing and crying in court. Harlow described Richmond’s distanced relationship with his father. Crowley turned to CNN legal contributor Paul Callan for his expert input and begins her line of questioning by mentioning, "a 16 year old, sobbing in court, regardless of what big football players they are, they still sound like 16 year olds" and then inquired about the lasting impact of the two convicted.

What about the lasting impact on the female who was actually raped?

While it is understandable that the female victim in question has been inaccessible to the media (unlike the perpetrators), it’s still no excuse to marginalize the implications of her story. In a sense, such tactics are a form of silencing the victim that then encourages the spiral of silence that often occurs in cases where a big name reputation seeks protection. One prominent example falls within the Amherst rape case, which caught the nation’s attention and encouraged other rape survivors to come out with their experiences. That is the type of support that needs to be visible in the media. It isn't only far-away places like India that warrants highlighted coverage on the plight of rape victims — the culprits receive no mercy from our journalists, so why should that factor change in the face of American teenage boys?

They are criminals who consciously committed destructive acts and their consequences are deserved, no matter their age or how high their GPAs.