Poppy Harlow, CNN's enthusiastic reporter on the crushed football dreams of Steubenville's convicted rapists — and inspiration for some 250,000 signatures to see her network apologize — is apparently "outraged" that criticisms portraying her as an on-air rape apologist have gotten "out of control." But after those thousands see the ugliness of blatant online rape apology collected all in one place, it puts Harlow's missteps into some perspective. The Tumblr known as "Public Shaming" has begun amassing tweets sent since Sunday's verdict in Ohio that found two Steubenville High football players guilty of raping an unconscious 16-year-old girl. And, well, if you thought the text messages in the case itself were sick, or the cable-news coverage thereafter was tasteless, or the threats against the victim that led to arrests and around-the-clock monitoring of Twitter by the attorney general's office were something, just have a look:
Unconvinced that @Itz_Real was actually a real person — or at least a real Twitter account — we looked into the account and found more signs that humanity is sad:
One user ended up deleting his Twitter account after this message was posted to the Tumblr:
And when you look up this user who calls Jane Doe a drunk slut, there's one big "internal service error":
Same with this female Twitter user, who seems to think the Jane Doe victim in the case is somewhat to blame for her rape:
Now, perhaps this Tumblr is doing its ostensible job — if these Twitter users are deleting their accounts, the shaming has already begun. And they might know that they did something wrong. But as parents and politicians and legal officials in Steubenville call for lessons to be learned about rape — local lawmakers were expected to propose a bill on Wednesday to open a rape-crisis trust fund — it's hard to tell where the private conversations blaming rape victims will continue, and where the public healing begins.
"I hope this sends a warning," Attorney General Mike DeWine told one of Harlow's CNN colleagues Tuesday after two Twitter users — including a cousin of one of the convicted — were arrested after direct threats to the victim. "And I can assure you, we've been monitoring Twitter for 24 hours and continue to. If there's anybody else there crosses a line and makes a death threat, they're going to have to face the consequences."
These other Twitter threats certainly aren't death threats, but who's watching the online bullies, and isn't that crossing some kind of line?
To be clear, no woman "sets herself up" for rape. Let's let that sink in and never forget it. As the verdict in the Steubenville case made clear, date rape is rape, leaving a party with your attackers is not a sign of consent, and a drunk woman is not "asking for it." And the young girl in Steubenville, who according to testimony was unconscious and barely moving when she was attacked multiple times, was found to be far from consent.
Since the verdict, this kind of second guessing has been focused not so much on the dark side of rape apology flooding corners of the Internet as, well, on TV personalities. They're easier to find. Harlow was actually one of the first national TV reporters to arrive on the scene in Steubenville and contributed several balanced reports from the trial. But on Sunday, she was discussing the aftermath of the verdict on live TV with host Candy Crowley when she made the following "analysis":
I’ve never experienced anything like it’s incredibly emotional, even for an outsider like me. These two young men, with promising futures, star football players, A students, literally watched as their lives fell apart.
That kind of "sympathy," as the many critics of Harlow and the ensuing legal "analysis" at CNN's anchor desk have called it for days now, may not have been blatant rape apology. (To be fair, Crowley compounded an already tone-deaf take from Harlow by asking legal expert Paul Callan about the boys's future instead of the victim's.) The Change.org petition calling for CNN to apologize for its personalities' effort to "paint the tears of the convicted Steubenville rapists in a sympathetic light" has close to 250,000 signatures as of this writing, but there's little you can really do about people who aren't on TV or aren't making death threats but who are contributing to the problem.
In any case, Harlow apparently feels pretty bad about her coverage, which she thinks was taken out of context. The Wrap's Sharon Waxman talked to some CNN "insiders," who took the anonymous opportunity to speak on Harlow's behalf in a post on the entertainment site Wednesday:
"Poppy is taking this extremely personally as a woman,” said one executive. “She’s outraged that someone would think she’d do such a thing” as slant her coverage toward rapists. “It’s gotten so out of control.”
A journalism professor at the Poynter institute went on to tell The Wrap: "It would have been appropriate to remember that there's a victim, and it doesn't make them smaller in any way to acknowledge that." As for the tweeters, well, they're looking like the smallest-hearted of all right now.