Earlier this week CNN’s coverage of a Steubenville, Ohio rape case was criticized for being slanted. You can watch a clip of the network’s coverage above. The high profile trial had attracted national attention, in part for the way that the victim was treated online. In the clip, CNN anchor Candy Crowley and correspondent Poppy Harlow cover the verdicts that were rendered to two teenage boys who were convicted of raping a teenage girl. CNN’s coverage was criticized by The Huffington Post, in which Kia Kakarechi called out the network for its “embarrassing and damaging coverage.” Most notable were the phrases used by Harlow, which appeared to deflect blame and show sympathy for the perpetrators who had just been convicted of rape.
Kathryn O’Driscoll, a UK-based blogger, effectively parsed Harlow’s and Crowley’s words to reveal the slant. Following are excerpts from the video followed by O’Driscoll’s responses, which seem to be right on target.
Harlow: “these two young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students, literally watched as they believed their lives fell apart.” O’Driscoll: “What about the victim? What about her life falling apart?”
Harlow: “He collapsed. He collapsed …” O’Driscoll: “[This] elicits sympathy. He collapsed? What about her?”
Harlow: “… alcohol a huge part of this …” O’Driscoll: “[This] detracts blame.”
Harlow: “… it’s really something that will have a lasting impact, much more of a lasting impact than going to a juvenile facility for one or two years …” O’Driscoll: “But less impact than the permenant (sic) scars of traumatic rape.”
Moreover, as O’Driscoll points out, the network aired the perpetrators’ apologies to the victim, which itself seemed to elicit sympathy for those who committed the crime. That CNN aired the victim’s name is itself problematic, for many (if not most) news outlets have strict policies against revealing the names of rape victims.
So what are the ethics here? When examining O’Driscoll’s response to Harlow’s coverage, it’s hard not to see the slant of the reportage. But was it intentional? That’s hard to say, of course. Regardless, that Harlow and Crowley appeared to have so much sympathy for the perpetrators and so little for the victim is telling. Then again, it would have been best if CNN had covered the story objectively showing no emotion whatsoever; that would have been the right thing to do. However, they didn’t do that. Instead, they covered a news event subjectively during which they appeared to direct sympathies toward those who had just been convicted of a brutal crime.
Sources: CNN, huffingtonpost.com, kathrynodriscoll.deviantart.com