You can blame CNN all you want for its reporters feeling sorry for the now convicted rapists in the ongoing case in Steubenville, Ohio, but MSNBC, Fox News, and CNN all just outed a 16-year-rape victim to millions. Seeking to report on an emotional case for all that it's worth, apparently, all three networks ran this unedited clip from the courtroom video feed, in which one of the defendants responds to Sunday's verdict by apologizing to the Jane Doe victim by name:
During last week's trial, the courtroom feed frequently cut itself off while underage witnesses testified, but it still contained several emotional mentions of the girl's name by those on camera, especially on Sunday as the judge in the case asked if the two convicted boys and their families and representatives had anything to say now that they "might be dealing with emotions" since the consequences of their actions "were now dawning on them." Trent Mays, who was convicted on two charges and began to break down crying as the verdict was read, composed himself enough for a statement: "I would truly like to apologize to [victim's first name], her family, my family and the community," he said to the court, his back turned to the camera. "No picture should have been sent around, let alone even taken." The Huffington Post reports that the name has been aired since, without a bleep or an audio cutout, on all three major cable networks: "CNN and MSNBC's broadcasts on Sunday and Fox News' broadcast on Monday. Local CBS affiliate WTRF also aired the clip without editing the victim's name out."
That's a big no-no for coverage of sexual assault, which has centered on standard practices that have barred major media outlets from naming rape victims in public coverage. And it's a big misstep for MSNBC, which had been pretty much the opposite of CNN with very thoughtful coverage (at least on Melissa Harris-Perry's show) of the case. For Fox, the move looks hypocritical — on FoxNews.com, they ran the following editor's note, explaining why they didn't even name the underage defendants, Mays or Ma'lik Richmond, despite their being outed by hackers and media long ago, and then put in front of cameras by their own attorneys and a judge's decision:
Editors’ Note: The Associated Press named the minors charged due to the fact they have been identified in other news coverage and their names were used in open court. FoxNews.com will not name the defendants.
Critics online — they have been vociferous in their campaign for "Justice for Jane Doe" — said Fox News should take equal if not more caution in protecting the anonymity of the victim.
But the critics have saved the most ire for CNN: On Sunday CNN correspondent Poppy Harlow "reported" that the verdict reflected a tough situation... for the criminals — she said it was "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."
Anchor Candy Crowley continued the tone-deaf coverage with a question for legal analyst Paul Callan: "What's the lasting effect, though, on two young men being found guilty in juvenile court of rape, essentially?" Cannan said that the verdict "will haunt them [the boys] for the rest of their lives." Harlow, Crowley, and Cannan all sort of forgot that there's a young girl out there who's going to have to live with being a high-profile rape victim for the rest of her life. Turns out, so did the rest of the mainstream television news media.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.