“There is nothing more provocative than minding your own business.” ~ William S. Burroughs

CNN, you used to be about news. What happened to you?

I’m so glad that Mallory Ortberg skewered the CNN coverage of the Steubenville Rapists. “Such promising futures . . .” Blah, blah, blah. Let us not forget that they raped an unconscious girl and then posted pictures of the acts on social media. To me, that does not bespeak intelligence or promise, rather blatant stupidity and a clear lack of character.

The full article follows:

CNN Reports On The ‘Promising Future’ of the Steubenville Rapists, Who Are ‘Very Good Students’

One way to report on the outcome of a rape trial is to discuss the legal ramifications of the decision or the effect the proceedings may have on the life of the victim. Another angle reporters can take is to publicly worry about the “promising future” of the convicted rapists, now less promising as a direct result of their choice to rape someone.

Reporters at CNN today chose the latter technique. General correspondent Poppy Harlow, speaking to anchor Candy Crowley, had this to say about the verdict:

“Incredibly difficult, even for an outsider like me, to watch what happened as these two young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students, literally watched as they believed their lives fell apart…when that sentence came down, [Ma'lik] collapsed in the arms of his attorney…He said to him, ‘My life is over. No one is going to want me now.’ Very serious crime here, both found guilty of raping the sixteen-year-old girl at a series of parties back in August.”

CNN also played footage of both convicted rapists tearfully apologizing in court. Harlow went on to describe in detail an emotional exchange between Ma’lik Richmond, one of the defendants, and his estranged father.

Candy asked Paul Callan, a legal expert, to elaborate on the future of the two young men, stressing their youth and emotional vulnerability.

“Sixteen-year-olds just sobbing in court, regardless of what big football players they are, they still sound like sixteen-year-olds…what’s the lasting effect, though, on two young men being found guilty in juvenile court of rape, essentially?”

“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. Employers, when looking up their background, will see that they’re registered sex offenders. When they move into a new neighborhood and somebody goes on the Internet, where these things are posted, neighbors will know that they are registered sex offenders.”

Yes, that is how the sex offender registry works. People who commit acts of sexual violence (rape, for example) and are convicted in a court of law are required to register with the national sex offender public registry, so that future employers and neighbors might do things like check said registry.

For readers interested in learning more about how not to be labeled as registered sex offenders, a good first step is not to rape unconscious women, no matter how good your grades are. Regardless of the strength of your GPA (weighted or unweighted), if you commit rape, there is a possibility you may someday be convicted of a sex crime. This is because of your decision to commit a sex crime instead of going for a walk, or reading a book by Cormac McCarthy. Your ability to perform calculus or play football is generally not taken into consideration in a court of law. Should you prefer to be known as “Good student and excellent football player Trent Mays” rather than “Convicted sex offender Trent Mays,” try stressing the studying and tackling and giving the sex crimes a miss altogether.

It’s perfectly understandable, when reporting on a rape trial, to discuss the length and severity of the sentence; it is less understandable to discuss the end of two convicted rapists’ future athletic and academic careers as if it were somehow divorced from the laws of cause and effect. Their dreams and hopes were not crushed by an impersonal, inexorable legal system; Mays and Richmond raped a girl and have been sentenced accordingly. Had they not raped her, they would not be spending at least one year each in a juvenile detention facility.

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.

Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond are not the “stars” of the Steubenville rape trial. They aren’t the only characters in a drama playing out in eastern Ohio. And yet a CNN viewer learning about the Steubenville rape verdict is presented with dynamic, sympathetic, complicated male figures, and a nonentity of an anonymous victim, the “lasting effects” of whose graphic, public sexual assault are ignored. Small wonder, then, that anyone would find themselves on the side of these men—these poor young men, who were very good at taking tests and playing sports when they were not raping their classmates.

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2 comments on ““There is nothing more provocative than minding your own business.” ~ William S. Burroughs

  1. leah in NC says:

    For a minute, I thought YOU wrote that…

    It’d be really cool if some young folks paid careful attention to this and learned something…

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