CNN basically had to cover the Steubenville verdict that way (and that’s the problem)

Mallory Ortberg of Gawker made a great point in her criticism of Candy Crowley, Poppy Harlow, and the CNN coverage of the Steubenville verdict. It’s by no means an excuse, but it’s still an important caveat:

“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. Since the identity of the victim is protected, and the rapists obliged the camera crews by memorably breaking down and crying in court, they found an angle to match: extremely gifted young men were brought tragically low by… mumblemumblesomething. That isn’t how rape trials ought to be discussed by professional journalists.”

I had wondered, to be honest, if Ortberg would point this out. It’s vital to protect the identity of the victim in these cases; she was also “brought tragically low,” and through no decision of her own. But if you’re desperate to cover the story in detail, and you can’t really talk about the victim, then you’re going to have to focus on the attackers.

And man alive, was CNN desperate to cover the story in detail! That’s the problem with the twenty-four news cycle, and this is the sort of thing that happens when its purveyors inevitably drop the ball under pressure.

If you’ve been watching CNN for a while, I’m sure you’ve spotted the following rules in action:

  • If an important story is breaking live, CNN’s got no option but stay with it as it unfolds.
  • If it’s a court verdict, or some other kind of story that doesn’t provide constant new developments, CNN’s forced to try and fill in the blanks with commentary.
  • Most of the people who work for CNN aren’t very good at that, so it’s usually only a matter of time until someone says something completely idiotic.

Again, that’s not an excuse for this dialogue. This really isn’t how rape trials ought to be discussed by professional journalists.

CNN plays a huge role in framing the national discussion on an issue like this, and the way in which they chose to frame it was regressive and offensive, not to mention lazy. It’s good that they’re taking heat for it, and I hope they’re prompted to address it. The sooner they do, the fewer people will realize they’re tired of turning to cable news for their information and commentary.

In the meantime, if you were offended by CNN’s coverage of the Steubenville verdict, feel free to let them know. Thirty to forty percent of their content these days is just screenshots of tweets, so really, you’d be doing them a favour.

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2 Responses to “CNN basically had to cover the Steubenville verdict that way (and that’s the problem)”

  1. Krantzstone (@Krantzstone) says:

    I’m not really sure why they couldn’t just sympathize with the victim even if the victim went unnamed. I can’t imagine it would have beeen terribly difficult to have concentrated on the long road ahead for the victim and her family, and how the victim might feel some small measure of comfort to see some justice done after all the negative attention heaped upon her by her attackers’ supporters.

    I expected their sort of reportage from Fox News, but not from CNN, and from a female anchorperson and a female reporter no less.

  2. Matt says:

    You’re right, Krantzstone; it wouldn’t have been especially difficult to take a better route with this story. I think CNN just chose to make it look difficult.