Even as I'm writing these words Twitter is buzzing like a hornets' nest with vituperative venom for CNN's Candy Crowley and Poppy Harlow. Not long ago, the news broke that two teenagers in Ohio, Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond, had been convicted of raping a teenager whose name is not in the public domain but whom Twitter has dubbed 'Jane Doe'. While Jane was intoxicated and incapacitated at a party, Mays and Richmond held her by her arms and legs (as shown in an upsetting photo that I won't link you to but which has done the rounds on the Internet). They then penetrated her with their fingers. Whilst in Britain this might be 'sexual assault', in Ohio this counts as rape. Regardless of what side of the semantic Atlantic fence readers are on I hope the moral condemnation will be the same.
When the story broke, Ms. Crowley lamented (on television) the impact that the verdict would have on the "promising" lives of the perpetrators and reporter Poppy Harlow sympathized with their emotional state following the sentencing. Now the Internet has turned on them both with disbelief and fury. Even Judge Tom Lipps, who handed down the sentence, has attracted negative attention for mentioning that the case highlighted the dangers of alcohol abuse by teenagers. "Blaming alcohol and social media for Steubenville... = rapeculture" Tweeted Shelby Knox. (Ms. Knox is often referred to as a 'feminist writer' when mentioned in articles like this. I dislike explicitly using the prefix 'feminist' as it carries marginalizing connotations and suggests that writers and readers don't share the view that women are equal to men.) Lipps sentenced Richmond to one year minimum in a correctional institute and gave Mays an extra year for distributing photos of the crime, a sentence that has been criticized for being surprisingly lenient considering Lipps could have kept both incarcerated until they were 21.
And the enmity is justified. Crowley and Harlow should be ashamed of themselves for choosing to focus on the impact this appalling crime had on the perpetrators instead of the victim. I'm not sure how much control CNN as a body has over the nature of their coverage and so how much blame should be attributed to the broadcaster itself, but the degree to which the point was missed would almost be comical if it wasn't so shockingly vile. (An informative blow by blow of the coverage can be found here.) The ever-acute Jessica Valenti summed it up best: "The verdict didn't "ruin" the "promising" lives of the Steubenville rapists. Their decision to rape did."
Perhaps surprisingly there was a much higher (or more ethical) standard of reporting to be found online: the evidence, comprised mainly of videos, pictures and text messages, spread via social media sites like Instagram and is now so widely available that you could probably find most of it yourself in seconds. This quick transmission doubtless drummed up a good deal of support for Jane Doe: Anonymous were responsible for spreading much of the footage around the web and the eerie, silent, ivory-white Fawkesian masks were waiting outside the Jefferson County Justice Center. Unsurprisingly they attracted some negative attention, particularly from Breitbart News who said Anonymous had "terrorize[d]" the town, though exactly how terrifying a silent protest can be is unclear.
The guilty verdict is a chance for Jane Doe to begin recovering from what was done to her but the media has lessons to learn from the mistakes of Crowley and Harlow. When it comes to rape the news needs to enforce the message that sadly still needs to be enforced: that anything except "Yes" means "No".