Reporting on sex crimes can be difficult territory, because they carry larger implications about how we define such crimes and how we deal with them as a society. On Sunday, CNN became the latest to learn that lesson while covering the guilty verdict in the Steubenville rape case, when its reporters wound up sounding way too concerned about the now-diminished futures of Ma’lik Richmond and Trent Mays, the two teenagers convicted of raping a fellow 16-year-old while she was unconscious. Anchor Candy Crowley and reporter Poppy Harlow spent their segment exploring the effect the conviction would have on the “star football players, very good students,” now that their “promising futures,” as Harlow put it, will involve a stint in juvenile hall and a lifetime as registered sex offenders.
“Sixteen-year-olds just sobbing in court, regardless of what big football players they are, they still sound like sixteen-year-olds,” Crowley said, while asking expert commentator Paul Callan about the lasting effect would be for Richmond and Mays. Callan explained it was the sex offender label, which “will haunt them for the rest of their lives.” Not their crime, mind you, but the label it comes with.
“It is unlikely that Candy Crowley and Poppy Harlow are committed rape apologists; more likely they simply wanted a showy, emotional angle at the close of a messy and sensationalized trial,” wrote Gawker’s Mallory Ortberg. And that assessment sounds about right. But the segment has already landed CNN on Raw Story’s list of the top five Steubenville rape apologists, next to insane rape denier Michael Crook — Gawker’s takedown of the story is leading that site right now — and if Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert weren’t taking this week off, we’d put money on them eviscerating it on Monday. So yeah, CNN is hearing about this one.
But if CNN was the highest-profile outlet to express apparent sympathy for the two boys, it was hardly the only one, and others were far more overt. Breitbart.com’s Lee Stranahan blamed Anonymous and the media, in general, for victimizing the town of Steubenville. And as the rage-inducing Tumblr Public Shaming illustrates, there is no shortage of people crying on Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook about the verdict as a perversion of justice. That reporting standard of keeping sexual assault victims’ names private is looking pretty darned appropriate right now.