Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Criticism of CNN unwarranted in Steubenville rape case

Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond are the architects of their own dissatisfaction. But when news of the verdict of their delinquency was read aloud in the courtroom, and these two seemingly callous young jocks broke down in uncontrollable sobbing, one would have to be fairly cold-hearted not to feel some measure of compassion for the destruction they've brought on themselves. They are, after all, still boys.

Alas, following the verdict of delinquency in the Steubenville rape case, CNN reporters were criticized in some quarters for pointing out that the two boys had "promising futures," that they were "star football players, very good students," and that being registered sex offenders "will haunt them for the rest of their lives" -- in short, for humanizing them, and for verbalizing the scope of the tragedy they had brought on themselves. See hereCNN is now under pressure to apologize. See here. I am unaware that CNN ever, in any manner, suggested that the two young men found delinquent, were, in fact, innocent, or had been unjustly deprived of due process, or were being subjected to a sentence that was excessive. CNN was guilty merely for daring to treat these boys as human beings.

One writer summed it up: "While they're [CNN] not necessarily rooting for the rapists, even the slightest bit of sympathy didn't go over well . . . ."  Read that again. "Even the slightest sympathy" is too much sympathy. That is twisted beyond measure.

If anything, CNN's treatment of the rapists not as animalistic strangers lurking in the bushes to prey on women, but as real, live boys -- boys who actually go to school and play sports and have families --might be a wake-up call for other real, live boys who actually go to school and play sports and have families. It is easier to dismiss the crime, and its consequences, if we imagine it was committed by faceless sociopaths who must be rotten to the core merely by virtue of the crime they committed. Other boys, and their families, across America who saw that report, and who saw the convicted boys sobbing, might be jolted by the reality that -- these kids look a lot like them.

One point that has been overlooked: CNN was precluded from talking about the victim other than in general terms because she was anonymous in these proceedings. Members of the news media know they aren't allowed to talk about her specifically, and they are always careful not to reveal rape accusers' and victims' identities by inference.

In contrast, while juveniles like Mays and Richmond accused of rape are typically granted anonymity, but the news media made an exception to its general rule in this case and publicly identified them because social media had widely reported their identities. As a result, the news media has not hesitated to show their faces, and their personal stories have been reported. If they had remained anonymous, it is our guess they could not have been humanized so easily.

Let us make this clear. We are unaware of any infirmity in Mays' and Richmond's judicial proceeding that would warrant anger at the victim for subjecting the young men to a wrongful conviction. While we, too, think that underage drinking is a serious problem that needs to be addressed, this is not the time to talk about it. A far greater evil, rape, intervened, and that's what needs to be the focus of attention in this case.

While we understand the disgust over the Steubenville rape sympathizers, that scarcely warrants the criticism heaped on CNN for pointing out the human tragedy that Mays and Richmond brought on themselves.