Tam Sutherns

CNN’s portrayal of Steubenville rapists makes waves

Tammy Sutherns

Tammy Sutherns

By Tam Sutherns

Change.org started a petition, calling for CNN to apologise on air for sympathising with the two Steubenville rapists. While the petition is now closed, generating over 200 000 signatures, it has raised some critical problems embedded in society.

The petition was created after three CNN reporters spoke about the tragedy of such young men being sentenced for the crime, men who had promising futures as football athletes. Their sobbing in court was also mentioned, however, there was no mention of the victim by any of the reporters.

The petition states:

To: CNN
Your coverage of the Steubenville rape trial’s verdict Sunday morning was a complete disgrace and a breach of journalistic ethics. To have three of your personalities blatantly portray the rapists as the victims in this situation while not so much as acknowledging the actual rape victim and what she has had to put up with since — death threats and the hostility of that entire football-crazed town — is nothing short of disgusting.

I request that you apologize on-air, several times over the course of the next week, at the start of every hour, for your shameful coverage that only served to perpetuate a culture in which young people will grow up not understanding the concept of consent and in which rape victims are blamed, ostracized and threatened. Start with Candy Crowley, Poppy Harlow and Paul Callan themselves issuing their apologies several times, then extend that to the rest of CNN’s staff and Jeff Zucker himself. Admit that your coverage was extremely off base and tell us why it was off base. Use the content of this letter as a starting point if you need to.

A culture that sympathizes with rapists and encourages them while shaming rape victims can no longer be considered socially acceptable, and that change must start with you. As journalists for a major network that reaches millions of households in the United States and worldwide, it is your responsibility. Accept it.

 

Responses to the petition have been emotive. One signer said:

“These boys were rapists. They knew what they were doing. To say that their poor little lives were ruined for RAPING SOMEONE? They deserve far more than serving a year in Juvie and being registered as a sex offender for life. Disgusting, CNN. That poor young woman who was assaulted… and then made into the perpetrator rather than the victim? Absolutely foul and inhuman.”

Another said:

“This was just sick. All this talk about lives falling apart and lasting trauma and no mention of the true victim? Shame on them. This was pathetically unethical reporting, and they should be held accountable.”

The outcry raises some very important issues when it comes to the media’s portrayal of violent crimes. Victims should not be lost in this portrayal – ever – and CNN has made a fatal error in its media coverage. More crucial is that CNN’s reporters have simplified the issue – another grave mistake. The questions they should be asking – as journalists, as human beings and as members of a violent society – is why these young men committed this act and how their environment contributed to making it OK.

CNN’s Paul Callan said:

“The most severe thing with these young men is being labeled as registered sex offenders. That label is now placed on them by Ohio law. That will haunt them for the rest of their lives.”

Perhaps it’s this attitude – that because these young men are young, good students and held the potential of becoming football stars – that the world owes them something and they are not accountable for their actions.

CNN’s portrayal of these young men as victims is alarming and a glaringly obvious metaphor of the problem at large. In a world where two men commit rape and somehow become the victims in the story, how are we meant to show how very wrong their act was? How are we meant to remember the real victim in this story?

The victim, a 16-year-old young woman, was intoxicated beyond consciousness on the night of the rape. Her clothes were removed and the two convicted rapists filmed her while inserting their fingers inside her vagina (an act defined as rape by Ohio law). One of the convicted also attempted to put his penis in the unconscious teenager’s mouth. These videos were shared among students, on YouTube and on social networking platforms.

Will this not haunt her for the rest of her life?

See the responses and original petition at: http://www.change.org/petitions/cnn-apologize-on-air-for-sympathizing-with-the-steubenville-rapists

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