Instead of apologizing or listening to the complaints that the network was soft on rapists due to their Steubenville rape convictions coverage, CNN is outraged and dismissive.
Today The Wrap reported:
Poppy Harlow, covering the events in Steubenville, particularly hard.
“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.”
I don’t believe that Poppy Harlow, Candy Crowley, or CNN deliberately set about to apologize for rapists or minimize rape. But they did. The fact that they are so unaware of why this is a problem is exactly why they need to apologize.
The problem here is that Harlow and CNN don’t understand why people are complaining. Harlow is outraged and CNN has brushed it off as not necessarily valid according to The Wrap, “CNN had no official comment, except to note privately that viral petitions sometimes have a life of their own and start ‘feeding on itself’ whether or not the issue is valid.”
The issue is very simple and very valid. We live in a “rape culture”. That is a culture where rape is excused and blown off, and the victim is silenced and/or smeared. Rape is excused and tolerated via the sometimes well meaning complicity of people who don’t know any better. That culture is being challenged by the very same social media that was used to broadcast the humiliating abuse of the victim. Guess which side won in the court of mainstream public opinion? Hint: It wasn’t the perpetrators.
And so CNN’s coverage was disturbing, as it fed the rape culture. Reporter Poppy Harlow stood outside the courtroom visibly distressed and lamented on air to Candy Crowley, “I’ve never experienced anything like it, Candy. 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.” No mention of how the victim’s life was torn apart and is forever tainted due to the video and pictures the rapists and their posse posted online. Candy Crowley didn’t help matters when she, too, failed to mention the victim.
The Wrap acknowledged:
Rather than balancing Harlow’s report, anchor Candy Crowley asked an expert about the rape conviction’s “lasting effect on two young men.” As critics pointed out, Crowley did not spare a word for the unnamed and unseen victim or the lasting effect on her.
Indeed, Crowley may regret qualifying the crime as “essentially rape.”
In response, Change.org started a petition asking for an apology with 264,417 supporters as of this writing, but a CNN writer for The Wrap thinks most of the outrage is coming from the “far end of the political spectrum” (ask Todd Akin about that).
Times are changing and it is no longer acceptable to lament the “poor boys” whose lives are “ruined” without at least also noting that they earned this destruction through their choice to attack their victim. They made a choice to rape this girl. They were gloating about it by all accounts.
While we can’t know how this specific rape victim is doing, rape victims in general suffer from the same kind of PTSD that returning soldiers do, including the flashbacks. They can suffer from anxiety and an inability to be intimate with a partner of their choosing. They are sometimes suicidal. This can last a lifetime.
This specific victim’s humiliation was publicly broadcast and memorialized. She has been shamed and blamed and threatened repeatedly. The media says she was drunk without noting that she was likely roofied. The media doesn’t mention that the “promising” young men who raped her were also drunk. “Essentially rape” is the same as “legitimate rape” or the old “real rape”. Rape is rape, and rape is a crime against the freedom and liberty of another person.
Imagine if the media reported on a murder conviction by lamenting the lost chances of the perpetrator, never mentioning the victim. Imagine if in reporting on the Jerry Sandusky trial they lamented his lost promise and never mentioned the children he harmed. Yes, it’s outrageous.
Rape is an outrageously prevalent crime. Every two minutes, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted. 44% of them are under the age of 18 and 80% are under the age of 30. A whopping 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail, and 54% of rapes are not even reported to police.
The victims, both male and female, deserve to be treated like the crime victims they are, and not the “accuser” (thanks, Republicans) bringing down some fabulous man’s life. Remember when so many were cheering for Jerry Sandusky? This is the same thing. This very attitude is what keeps victims from reporting the crime in the first place. However, the fault for the patriarchal view of rape hardly originated with CNN; they are merely one of most who don’t get it yet.
Yes, CNN should apologize. They should be a leader and approach this as an opportunity instead of a PR problem that they can sniff away with condescending smugness.
As a TV producer, I see a big win here for them if they were bold enough to take it. They could do a special on the impact of rape, and interview both rape victims and people who specialize in rape treatment (RAINN is a great resource). They could shake things up by showing that it’s not just women who get raped; it’s also boys and girls and sometimes even men. They could both improve their image and get ratings by embracing the end of the rape culture. They could ask the very question they don’t seem to get — does how we talk about rapists matter?
A real apology encompasses the acknowledgement that you get it, and that starts by listening to the people who are outraged. This victim has been through enough already, and so have the millions of rape victims in this country alone. Every two minutes, we get another sexual assault victim added to the list. It’s time we change how we talk about this crime.
Ms. Jones is the co-founder/ editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.