As expected, the Internet lit up after the judge announced the guilty verdict in the Steubenville rape trial. As expected, some reactions were just awful. Unexpectedly, one of them came from CNN.
Candy Crowley probably didn't mean to steal the spotlight on Sunday afternoon, when she reported on the breaking news from the Steubenville courtroom where Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond had just been found guilty. After the verdict came in, the CNN anchor turned to correspondent Poppy Harlow, who expressed some strange mixture of emotions. "Incredibly difficult, even for an outsider like me, to watch what happened as these two young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students, literally watched as they believed their lives fell apart," said Harlow. Crowley turned to legal expert Paul Callan, who sounded almost apologetic when explaining how the rape conviction will mean that the Steubenville rapists will now be registered sex offenders and how that "will haunt them for the rest of their lives." None of these things said were untrue. But the tone was certainly a little off.
The segment, in general, didn't do CNN any favors. While they're not necessarily rooting for the rapists, even the slightest bit of sympathy didn't go over well, especially once it was lumped together with all of the outrageously offensive reactions of true Steubenville rapist sympathizers. Sarcastic example tweet: "The Steubenville story is all too familiar. Be responsible for your actions ladies before your drunken decisions ruin innocent lives." Sincere example tweet: "So you got drunk at a party and two people take advantage of you,that's not rape you're just a loose drunk slut." Of course, cases like the Steubenville rape trial can be polarizing, and we've long known how distorted some notions of justice can be.
The blogosphere went to town on CNN. Gawker's Mallory Ortberg really didn't appreciate Crowley and company waxing sympathetic about the damage done to the rapists' "promising futures." She wrote, "Their dreams and hopes were not crushed by an impersonal, inexorable legal system; Mays and Richardson raped a girl and have been sentenced accordingly." Ortberg added, "Reporting like this presents viewers with anonymous female victims and dynamic, sympathetic, complicated male figures." That's a strong point, especially since we didn't really hear from the victim until nearly the end of the trial.
That said, the media's actually been grieving the ends of these rapists' young lives for a few days now. It's just a little more infuriating now that they're officially guilty. Just before the trial started, for instance, Good Morning America published a sprawling preview under the headline, "The Steubenville Rape Case: What You Haven't Heard." What follows is a retelling of the whole saga with plenty of attention paid to the "honors student" Mays and wrong-side-of-the-tracks Richmond. The piece ends on a sympathetic note, almost bemoaning the fact that the two teens "face incarceration in a detention center until their 21st birthdays and the almost-certain demise of their dreams of playing football." Feeling sorry for the boys was a little bit more acceptable before they were convicted, but still, it hardly feels like objective reporting.
If all this upsets you, don't use up all your rage now. The Steubenville case is hardly over. Next, the state of Ohio will convene a grand jury to investigate further charges, and the media circus will get an encore, if not an entirely new act. All any decent person can do is hope for a little bit more balance. "As I said already, any rape is a tragedy," Ohio attorney general Mike DeWine said after the verdict on Sunday. "But, it is even more of a tragedy when that victim is continually re-victimized in the social media." Let's hope the mainstream media doesn't do the same.