Why railing against CNN for the Steubenville coverage is a waste of time

Momentum is building against CNN for clumsy things anchors said about the teenagers convicted of rape in Steubenville, Ohio.

It’s a misplaced anger that will do nothing but further confuse the public about issues of rape and sexual assault, particularly as the crime affects children and teenagers, who make up 44 percent of rape victims.

This discussion is not just about what has happened in the news and what has transpired in Steubenville; it’s an opportunity to have an honest conversation about the sexual assault of children and teenagers, and about misguided perceptions of healthy sexuality and the role of sports culture.

A petition on Change.org – which is asking CNN to apologize for mourning the tragic end of the boys’ promising football careers rather than acknowledging the impact of the rape on the girl — had more than 100,000 signatures as of Tuesday morning. Started by Gabriel Garcia of Knoxville, Tenn., the petition states:

That CNN decided to paint the tears of the convicted Steubenville rapists in a sympathetic light and say how their lives were ruined — while completely ignoring the fact that the rape victim’s life is the one whose life was ruined by these rapists’ actions — is disgusting and helps perpetuate a shameful culture in which young people never understand the concept of consent and in which rape victims are blamed and ostracized. Changing that culture must be done brick by brick, and it can start by heaping public shame on this major cable news network and forcing them to admit that they are wrong. Publicly.

In other media criticism, some are condemning Fox News for airing the victim’s name, even though others did it too. It’s hard to tell if this was an honest slip, but it really doesn’t matter.

For more than a decade, I’ve worked with rape survivors and organizations that advocate for survivors to improve media coverage of rape. I’ve led workshops, written model policies and counseled newsrooms through difficult, high-profile cases.

Here’s the problem: Rape and other forms of sexual assault are incredibly common. (For more information and statistics go here or here.) Researchers estimate that one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually assaulted before age 18.

That means there are a lot of rapists out there. Sure, some rapists are responsible for multiple attacks and some are dangerous predators. But that many victims suggests profound confusion about rape on the part of both men and women, boys and girls.

Portraying all rapists as monsters and refusing them any sympathy creates a dynamic in which it’s impossible to acknowledge how many ordinary and common rapists live among us. (According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, “approximately 2/3 of assaults are committed by someone known to the victim,” and “38 percent of rapists are a friend or acquaintance.)

Likewise, concluding that all rape victims’ lives are ruined, that they are damaged goods condemned to a future of stigma and shame, ignores the fact that most rape survivors manage to put their lives together. This is not to minimize the trauma, because there is substantial harm. But almost every victim I’ve met lives a normal, productive life. They aren’t all ruined.

The Steubenville teenage victim, along with her family, have demonstrated the resilience of survivors. Her family members are a model for the rest of us; they didn’t insinuate that because she’d been drinking, she brought this on herself. Instead, they insisted on justice, even when they met resistance.

Rape is complicated. It is also common. We have to find ways to discuss the nuances of an epidemic that hurts so many children. Hyperbole undermines this goal. If all rapists are monsters, that means that mom’s boyfriend, or the coach, or star athlete can’t be a rapist. If all victims are destroyed, or worst yet, destined to victimize others, then healthy, intelligent men and women can’t be victims. And that’s just not true.

So don’t sign the petition demanding CNN apologize. Instead, draw attention to the good coverage.

ESPN’s Michael Smith and Jemele Hill devoted their entire His & Hers podcast this week to the topic. Hill discussed her own childhood assault as a 12-year-old and the fact that her mother was sexually assaulted as well. They talked about the responsibility parents have to educate their sons and daughters, about the pervasiveness of male entitlement in sports cultures and how difficult it is to achieve justice. Smith explains his sympathy for the convicted boys. Hill describes how she would counsel a teen girl to protect herself in a world that won’t respect her right to say no.

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center tried to draw attention to a study suggesting that more than half of teenagers would find it tough to intervene; 40 percent said they wouldn’t know what to do.

And blogger and former Steubenville resident Alexandria Goddard describes her role in uncovering the documentation of the assault on social media.

It’s not wrong to feel sympathy for two boys crying over their ruined lives. Because of the perceived stigma, we don’t name the victim or see her image. I’m not suggesting that we change that, until victims voluntarily ask us to. But we in the media have to do more to put a face on the victims of childhood rape. We need to find ways to tell their stories, the way David Holthouse did in his moving first-person stories for Westward and This American Life.

Railing against missteps or an imbalance in coverage makes us less likely to take up powerful stories that will change the way we as a society understand the extent of the rape problem and the power we have to change it.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/letrungvan Lê Trung Văn

    Does that make them “monsters”? http://vaytructuyen.net/forum/index.php

  • Adolf Kid
  • http://www.facebook.com/franmusc France Gina Muscatelli

    Where are you getting those sexual assault statistics???

  • Can’t Believe It

    Nobody cons like a con and these two young men in Steubenville have suckered you in just like they did to those unfortunate people on CNN. I agree that we need to acknowledge that rapists are just like us, and that they are often just doing to others what was done to them. But at the same time, we need to create enough social pressure, enough shame, enough moral force that we can convince the wobblers, the not-quite-monsters, to keep their impulses in check.

  • disqus_GyalMmw8OQ

    “Portraying all rapists as monsters and refusing them any sympathy
    creates a dynamic in which it’s impossible to acknowledge how many
    ordinary and common rapists live among us” – That’s just f*cked up. Ms. MsBride, if you found yourself one morning having been violated, spat upon, laughed at, photos of you on the Internet, you having filed charges against these “common and ordinary rapists,” a major news network not even mentioning your pain and suffering while expressing the ruined lives of rapists. Do you think you would have written this column? Just wondering.

  • http://twitter.com/lrich1024 Lisa Richardson

    You seem to suggest that since rape is such a common thing, it’s ok to feel sorry for (some) rapists because their lives were also ruined (by the *crime* they committed). I’m sorry, but there is some sort of flawed logic at work here. Just because a crime is common doesn’t mean we should feel sorry for the criminal. The reason that crimes like this *are* so common is because there is a tolerance of this sort of behavior, where people shrug and say, ‘it happens all the time’, so if you really want to effect change, the way to do that is to make those deplorable actions have serious consequences, and to talk about it, and take it seriously, and to not act like the criminals in the situation didn’t do anything that bad.

  • http://twitter.com/catfitz CatherineFitzpatrick

    Good for you. No one should be caving to this culture-jamming and social hacking by Anonymous, which is all it is.

  • fr0thing

    And the Liberal/Progressive War on Women continues. First the Occupy movement, now this

  • uponfurtherreview

    Kelly,

    Quite honestly, I find a lot of your assertions somewhere between perplexing and illogical. For example:

    1. You say: “Portraying all rapists as monsters and refusing them any sympathy
    creates a dynamic in which it’s impossible to acknowledge how many ordinary and common rapists live among us.”

    *** First of all, that’s a straw man and you know it. Nobody’s portraying ALL rapists as “monsters,” nor does the petition even mention the word.

    Secondly, how does someone else’s characterization of rapists make it “impossible” for you to acknowledge something you regard as truth? You’re a journalist with a column, yes? Well, state your case in print, and if readers believe it has merit, the existing “dynamic” won’t matter.

    Thirdly, I have a problem with your term “ordinary and common rapists,” which sounds about as enlightened as Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” quote and Whoopi Goldberg’s claim that Roman Polanski’s assault on an underage girl wasn’t “RAPE-rape.”

    2. You cite this statistic: “approximately 2/3 of assaults are committed by someone known to the victim,” and “38 percent of rapists are a friend or acquaintance.”

    *** Well … so what? Does familiarity make the perpetrator less culpable and the victim less traumatized? Ask any woman who was raped by her stepfather as a child and I doubt she’ll tell you that since she knew him, it wasn’t all that bad and she still considers him a good guy.

    3. You write, “But almost every victim I’ve met lives a normal, productive life.”

    *** Excuse me, but do you have a psychologist’s degree, and if so, are these women your clients? If not, what qualifies you to characterize any rape victim’s life as “normal,” no matter what it looks like from the outside? You have no idea how many of these women fear spending a night in their house alone … or suddenly burst into tears when trying to share intimacy with a loving partner.

    4. You say, “It’s not wrong to feel sympathy for two boys crying over their ruined lives”

    *** Sure it is. When two young men use an intoxicated female as their personal sex toy and laugh about it afterward, I don’t feel sorry for them when they’re punished for their misdeeds.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kelvinpollo Kelvin Campbell

    This article seems to have misunderstood why most people are upset with CNN in the first place. Your closing statement “powerful stories that will change the way we as a society understand the extent of the rape ” Is exactly why CNN is getting such a beating from common people.
    No one wants these kids to be treated like monsters, but at the same time why the hell should anyone feel sorry for them?
    There’s already an overwhelming social tollerance for the shit that athlete’s do. CNN is, perhaps not conciously, insinuating that the VICTIM has somehow ruined the lives of these two boys. If you want sexually assaulted teens to have a voice then maybe you should also be outraged at CNN, because what they’re doing is reinforcing a rediculous culture where the victim of sexual assualt now has to be considerate of they damage THEY will now cause if they attempt to charge their rapists.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mcipperly Megan Cipperly

    I’ll be the first to admit that men too suffer in a culture that normalizes rape. But just because ordinary boys are committing sexual assaults doesn’t mean they’re not monsters. Yes it’s more complicated than that, but the media needs to set an example and let other boys know that yes, what they are doing is monstrous. You’ve been lobbying for better news coverage of rape stories for over a decade? Well maybe you’re part of the problem.

  • mnymj

    a more accurate comparison would be burn down his house of a prominent town citizen, after he gave them the key a can of gasoline and a lighter.

  • anotheronewiththecancer

    I agree with Kevin Lawrence’s 2 most recent comments; the petition does not call the rapists monsters, but is calling them criminals, who broke the law. Yes, we live in a rape culture, and many others need to be held accountable (the coach, the others who knew the crime happened and did nothing, so on). What this petition is calling for, simply, is some accountability in journalism. And that is what I wanted when I proudly signed it. I’m not looking for justice for the girl (I won’t say victim, in cancerland that word is fraught with negativity although I disagree with that, and my understanding that rape survivors also may view the word negatively). She deserves justice, but that is not what the CNN kerfluffle is about. It is about media, and our culture at large, sympathizing with the lawbreakers. If they burnt down the house of a prominent town citizen, would there be so much worry about their “ruined careers”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1023024392 John Prentice

    Rubbish. Boycott CNN until they apologize. Slash their ratings. Despicable behaviour.

  • mnymj

    I’m a 52 yr old virgin, I don’t have to worry about all that.

  • castingstones2

    “So don’t sign the petition demanding CNN apologize. Instead, draw attention to the good coverage.” So far, 255,275 people disagree with you at change.org.

  • bcatherine42

    I agree that this column misses the mark. While I understand the points the author is trying to make, the condemnation of CNN’s coverage comes from the fact that too many of us who were raised to believe in fact-based journalism can tolerate such biased coverage from a source that is supposed to be an industry leader in such coverage. Instead, I have seen CNN veer dangerously toward the sensationalistic in both its headlines and its presentation of stories on many an occasion in the last few months. When I signed the petition, I was demanding more responsible news coverage. This was a tragedy that never had to happen, but I feel less sympathy for two young boys who didn’t learn not to physically attack a compromised young woman than I do for her. And yet CNN chose to give its sympathy (something that does not ordinarily belong in most everyday news coverage) to the perpetrators. There is right and there is wrong–they were wrong (that’s according to that thing called a guilty verdict). Does that make them monsters? We don’t have to call them monsters to judge what they did as horribly, terribly wrong. Maybe they are not bad kids (I will leave it to the victim to make that call), but I agree with the previous comments that say coverage like this makes it easy to obscure and confuse the line between the definable issue of right and wrong.

  • http://www.facebook.com/KGLNYC Kevin Lawrence

    The only people calling these two rapists “monsters” is you and Ms. McBride. So let’s be clear with one another: these rapists aren’t “monsters” and the CNN reporters aren’t “monsters.” Insisting that a rational delivery of facts about rape convictions be conveyed in a fashion that doesn’t overtly portray rapists as victims of justice won’t “[contribute] to keeping rapists on the streets.” That’s a ridiculous assertion for you to make. The issue at the heart of the petition to CNN and the comments to this deplorable essay is that journalist should abide to an ethical delivery of news about rapists and their victims in a way that doesn’t offend and slight the overwhelming majority of viewers who want justice to be delivered so that rape victims can heal and rapists can reform. Stop this nonsense of obfuscating and accusing the offended of “monster movie” vilification. CNN and this essayists should address what so many people are upset about.

  • bookjp

    They wouldn’t know what to do??? How about just dialing 911 on your phone?? You know the same phones used to take pictures and videos of the rape??? Give me a break!!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=515622401 Deidre Olsen

    It is absolutely NOT a waste of time to demand that CNN step up to the plate and acknowledge and apologize for sympathizing with criminals who made the decision to take advantage of a teenage girl. Rape is a serious crime and it deserves serious attention.

  • Coach K

    Common sense dictates that one not empathize with the convicted rapist(s) immediately after a verdict, but rather the victim.
    Poppy was wrong.
    Anyone who cannot see an apology is in order is equally wrong.

  • http://www.facebook.com/steph.figgins Stephanie Figgins

    The CNN anchors were not outliers, and they were not at all being “clumsy.” They said exactly what they meant – and they were empowered to do so by a rampant rape culture that exists in America that unabashedly blames women when they are raped. To call their coverage merely “clumsy” (and to disavow calls to hold CNN accountable) is to deny the existence of the deep-seated patriarchy and misogyny from which such coverage is born.

  • http://twitter.com/JBrodkin The real Jon Brodkin

    I think this is an excellent article by Kelly, I can’t imagine why people are criticizing it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1616325363 Tom Cavender

    I can’t agree with the thrust of this essay – CNN’s coverage was truly awful and deserves all the scorn it’s getting, particularly the scorn directed at Ms. Harlow’s on-air comments. The two defendants in this trial committed a horrible, despicable, barbaric act, and forgive me for not showing the same level of sympathy as Ms. Harlow and Mr. Callan. Sorry, but a news outlet that at one time billed itself as “the network of record” and was once the best broadcast news outlet in the US should do better – Harlow and Callan (and to a lesser degree, Crowley) were engaging in the sort of thing you’d see on bad local news that has a strong sensationalist sensibility. Consider, too, that Aaron Swartz faced greater jail time *for breaking into a computer network* than these two individuals, and Mr. Swartz’s case, which ended tragically in his suicide, has elicited not one tear or “aw, poor thing” from the likes of Ms. Harlow or Mr. Callan.

    Horrible coverage, especially coverage that is as offensive as CNN’s coverage, deserves public shaming and scorn. Yes, the good coverage should be praised, but CNN should be called on the carpet, too.

  • http://twitter.com/regol REG

    Your essay is riddled with logical flaws and mischaracterizations.

    You observe that rape is common: “one in four girls, and one in six boys will be sexually assaulted before age 18.” You conclude: “that many victims suggests profound confusion about rape on the part of both men and women, boys and girls.”
    This conclusion simply does not follow. Even if, as you say, 38% of rapists are a friend or acquaintance, what basis do you have to conclude that these rapes occurred because of confusion about rape vs. consensual sex? Why are you so quick to discount the theory that rape may be intentional or reckless, or even negligent? Moreover, according to your stats, 62% of rapists are strangers; do you think their crimes can be excused due to “profound confusion about rape”? At the very least, surely you cannot conclude that “confusion” is to blame for child rape, can you?

    You also say that “portraying all rapists as monsters and refusing them any sympathy creates a dynamic in which it’s impossible to acknowledge how many ordinary and common rapists live among us.” Seriously, Ms. McBride, this contention is ridiculous. If the commonality of rape means anything, surely it is that our society is FAR too forgiving of this conduct. The last thing we need to do is be *more* sympathetic to rapists.

    Furthermore, the fact that rapists live among us as acquaintances and friends does not make them “ordinary” people, and the fact that rape is common does not mean that rapists are not “monsters.” A serial killer is no less culpable because he is smart, friendly, or otherwise an upstanding person in the community. It is articles like this that lead people to see rape as ordinary and to see rapists as sympathetic men who are just “profoundly confused” about what women want.

    To be sure, there are rapes which result from confusion about consent, but to the extent you are worried about the wrongfully convicted, direct your concerns to the justice system and our legal and evidentiary standards. And yes, of course we should work as a society to clarify conversations about consent. But please, the last thing rapists need is sympathy. Please stop sympathizing with them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=56012582 Sally Jo Sorensen

    Be kind to your common rapist? Complete fail.

  • Kelly Cookson

    True, the boys didn’t create the culture. But CNN does help create the culture by ignoring what rape does to women, how it negatively impacts them, and how for some women it can negatively impact their lives for decades to come. The criticism of CNN is well deserved for contributing to rape culture.

  • Kelly Cookson

    Ignore this writer. Go out and sign the petition. Also, go to the CNN website and send them emails demanding an apology.
    The petition has drawn a lot of attention to how our culture still ignores and minimizes what rape does to women…to our mothers, our sisters, our wives, our lovers, and our friends. CNN deserves a figurative rap on the head to wake them up.

  • Kelly Cookson

    A close friend of mine was raped when she was 19 years old. It gave her post traumatic stress disorder. She went through years of counseling and continues to see mental health professionals to this day. She has to take medicine every night to get to sleep, and when she does sleep, she often has nightmares. Her anxiety levels have not allowed her to work in high stress jobs. This has prevented her from pursuing at least one career option that she wanted to pursue. Maybe the people you’ve met have been lucky. But rape can have a lasting negative impact on the lives its victims.

  • castingstones2

    “Al Tompkins, senior faculty for broadcast and online at The Poynter Institute for Media, said CNN should apologize.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=15908616 Jennifer Crispin

    Yes, we always must be so careful to protect the feelings of the rapist. It’s a good thing we aren’t culturally required to be so delicate and sensitive about the feelings of murderers.

  • castingstones2

    There’s so much identification with the aggressor in your post that its very sad. It reminds me of clients protective of an alcoholic parent. Where is your empathy for the victim?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=15908616 Jennifer Crispin

    Exactly. Part of the reason rape happens so often (and is often committed by people who don’t understand that what they’re doing is rape) is that we have tried so hard to act like rapists AREN’T monsters. In a culture where guys can rape an unconscious girl, broadcast it all over social media, and still be seen as heroes in their town, the problem is NOT that they’re seen as monsters. They can rape and still be described as “nice boys” (check out the coverage of the gang rape of a 12-year-old in Cleveland, TX), good students, and promising athletes. Meanwhile, the victim is described as “drunk” (by the media), and as a slut or whore by the rapists and everyone else in their town. Maybe if we saw rapists as monsters, instead of boys just having a little fun, maybe we could do something about our rape problem.

  • castingstones2

    “But I can and will believe that the victim will have a fulfilled life.” We can hope so. But the reality is that without proper therapists and support what you are saying is a fairytale.

  • castingstones2

    “Like that raped women aren’t damaged goods.” This is true, but it isn’t as though a survivor doesn’t feel one. Denial of this reality in the article throws off the empathy victims deserve to meet them where they are. The effects are very real, I know, because I am a survivor of rape.

  • castingstones2

    As a survivor myself, I can tell you after researching resiliency for the past five years, studies cannot prove that it even exists in humans despite books and programs declaring the opposite. Using it as a reference in this article bothered me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.knilands Robert Knilands

    At the risk of getting into the middle of a battle of extremes, I will say a huge problem is the media’s complete inability to discuss the issue of teen sex. Even if those numbers posted here or the conclusions drawn from them are questionable, the issue will never be discussed by media whose discussion ability of the issue is somewhere on the level of “Sixteen Candles.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.knilands Robert Knilands

    I’m sure your generalizations will solve the problem. Let me know when it’s solved.

  • Mitch Andrews

    The headline for this article (“Why railing against CNN for the Steubenville coverage is a waste of time”) is not an accurate representation of its content. The headline implies that the “railing” will have no meaningful impact (positive or negative) other than the “waste of time” itself.

    But Ms. McBride is trying to make a much stronger point: that the “railing” will have important negative consequences of confusing the public and changing journalists’ behavior. From the article:

    (para 2) “[The anger towards CNN is] a misplaced anger that will do nothing but further confuse the public about issues of rape and sexual assault…”

    (last para) “Railing against missteps or an imbalance in coverage makes us less likely to take up powerful stories…”

    Poynter needs to be vigilant in demonstrating the journalistic standards that it is chartered to research, teach, monitor, and promulgate. Therefore, I suggest that the headline should be updated to accurately represent the article, and that Poynter should include “headline/content congruence” as a checklist item in the editing/publishing workflow.

  • Christian Avard

    Weird twist isn’t a good way to frame it. You’re right, Tiffany. What I meant to say is had it not been social media, this case wouldn’t be what it is now. The article from Dart Center tells it best.

  • mollypot

    Xira is a rapist.

  • mollypot

    Nobody owes these rapists anything, especially right at the moment they are convicted. Prior to this moment of time they insisted the victim brought it on herself. CNN is pathetic, they are supposed to be professionals.

  • http://twitter.com/JennaZachary Jenna Zachary

    This is not to minimize the trauma, because there is substantial harm. But almost every victim I’ve met lives a normal, productive life. http://www.Makingover68dollareveryhouronthelabtop.qr.net/kfah

  • http://www.facebook.com/tiffany.roberts.71619 Tiffany Roberts

    why is it a weird twist, it’s part of the picture now… in a big way.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tiffany.roberts.71619 Tiffany Roberts

    I’m disgusted by this essay. Rape should not be accepted as normal. And I could not for a second sympathize with the boys that committed this crime.

    The problem is that society is saying that it is somewhat NORMAL.. and you are clearly reinforcing the problem as well. We all need to UNnormalize the rape trend.

    As a society we need to punish those that commit these crimes and go further and further away from it being acceptable. We ASLO need to fight for the fact that women deserve more from our society… that should also be part of the converstaion. BUT we live in a patriarchal society.. and no one seems to understand that the laws that create this society are written by men, who want Rape to be acceptable? People need to look deeper at the problem.

    Women (and anyone that has suffered this way) deserve more, our society deserves more, and we (again) need to get away from accepting Rape as NORMAL… or from accepting a value system that says it’s ok. It’s not! Let’s start having a smarter conversation, the system (including Media that gives into it!) is obviously bending to accommodate f’d up ideals.

    We have the chance NOW to have a bigger conversation about what is going wrong… women should be part of that conversation. I wish there were more out there.. esp in the case of the media.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=55102431 Jacqui Shooter Causey

    False. They urinated on an unconscious girl. Your facts are wonky.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=55102431 Jacqui Shooter Causey

    While I disagree with the assertion that CNN critiques ar a waste of time, I certainly don’t believe this wad attention-grabbing. Other points were well-made. Like that raped women aren’t damaged goods.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=55102431 Jacqui Shooter Causey

    I agree in theory, but in reality, the Steubenville rapes were broadcast while a GROUP of boys urinated on an unconscious girl. I’m sorry, but this was NOT a case where a misunderstanding took place. This was a brutal attack on a young woman by boys who felt entitled and above the law… So much so that it was all over their public social media sites. CNN has a journalistic responsibility not to embrace a rape culture.

    That said, this is the first place that I have read anyone challenge the assertion that raped women are damaged goods, ruined for life. I applaud you for that.

  • Erin Gilson

    This piece reminded me of those people who decide that they must take a side in the “should we teach our children not to rape or not to be raped” debate, which never made sense to me. Why not face up to reality and teach both? All this article does is divide two groups who should really be in the same camp: good rape coverage – GOOD, bad rape coverage – BAD. I don’t see anyone here mad at this piece because ESPN did some GOOD coverage. I don’t see anyone here mad because none of us know rape is underreported, common, and happens to a lot of people. I don’t see anyone here questioning that there are rapists among us. So, in essence, you’re just trying to create a fight about nothing.

    The reason I, and I suspect MANY people (petition has 200,000 sigs and counting), are because we already know all that. We think it’s wrong for a news outlet to express sympathy for rapists because we already know all of that.

    I think – and frankly, it’s not that clear – you are trying to say that the concentration should be on recognizing the common fact of rape and rapists among us by not caricaturing them into monsters. I get it, compassion – especially compassion when faced with rapists might be a good thing because it is so daunting and scary. BUT, I think personal responsibility is even more important than compassion. That goes for rapists not raping and wanting our compassion. That goes for news outlets not harming a victim further by attempting to empathize with rapists or engage in victim-blaming. Because you are directing righteous anger away from that with no truly valid justification, it’s hard not to lump you in the latter category. It’s just not a compassionate day for me, sorry.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=515068431 Marthea Webber

    I am grateful for the resources you provided in highlighting the “good” coverage and information on victim resiliency, but you have posed this as a false either/or. Either we excoriate CNN or we focus on the good reportage. Not all of us challenging the coverage are asking for convicted rapists to be depicted as evil or one-dimensional. Moreover, Kevin Lawrence’s comments below say it better than I can about the responsibility news outlets have. As viewers it is our responsibility to hold them accountable: why couldn’t there have just been reportage, not opinion. Judge returns a disposition of delinquent. That’s all. Fact. End of “news story.” The CNN coverage sent the message to young people who may be afraid to report sexual violence or rape that reporting it may “ruin” lives.

  • Trish Jean-Louis

    What’s a “normal, common rapist”? Sounds like an oxymoron. Such language is far more confusing than using adjectives like “monster” to describe ALL rapists. There is no normalcy or anything common about a rapists behavior, such behavior is monstrous and should be defined as such To suggest otherwise is to confuse the ignorant (read teenagers) that such deviant behavior is as common as a hair cut; the teenage mind equates common with….normal, which leads to seeing rape as not a big deal. We must look at inappropriate behavior as vile, reprehensible and regrettable. The young men in this case behaved monstrously, can they be redeemed eventually, sure; we’ve got facilities (read jail and mental hospitals ) for that. But to insinuate that CNN, a learned, respectable media outlet is absolved of trying to skew their reporting on the matter to pity the offenders in any fashion is disgusting. These are the flood gates to young men taking their stances as having a defense, a platform when they shame and violate a young woman and should anticipate sympathy if they are students with a future. Imagine how many rapes won’t get reported now.

  • http://twitter.com/Ultimafax Michael Brooks

    The point is, you’re being trolled. Don’t feed the troll.

  • http://www.facebook.com/allison.j.ruggles Allison J Ruggles

    @Ellen thank you for being honest and brave and making the statement you did here. It ressonates with me. I sent the petition to all 400+ contacts in my hotmail account. The primary concern of everyone should be for the victim. After the perpertrators are punished and go through rehibilitation and show genuine remorse and regret for their actions then we can forgive and support them.

  • http://twitter.com/Ultimafax Michael Brooks

    Why was my comment removed?

  • http://www.facebook.com/skywrtr Ellen Kirkland

    I must have hit the nail directly on the head.

  • http://www.facebook.com/skywrtr Ellen Kirkland

    Where did my post go, Ms. McBride?

  • http://twitter.com/kellymcb Kelly McBride

    That’s a great link Kimberly. Thanks for sharing it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/skywrtr Ellen Kirkland

    The broader context is that we need to change the cultural context, not lament the long lost high school football careers of rapists and braggarts.

  • http://twitter.com/kellymcb Kelly McBride

    Fair enough. This is a huge huge international problem. Yet, I think we will be more successful convincing the men who hold these views to see women as fully embodied humans and endowed with clear rights that should not be violated by approaching them as humans, not monsters. Tell someone he’s a monster and he’s not likely to hear you out.

  • http://www.facebook.com/skywrtr Ellen Kirkland

    As a 33 year survivor of rape, I can tell you – through a variety of self-help groups, I have met many survivors, who while not ‘ruined,’ struggle with, among other things, PTSD, eating disorders, relationship problems, sexual addiction, and so on. In a recent article that I did on Military Sexual Trauma (MST), the DOD’s social workers and psychiatrist found a higher rate of PTSD in the victims of MST victims than among injured, battle scarred soldiers as well as extremely high usage of drugs and alcohol.

    I’d like to see your research for this not particularly well thought out story and I am surprised Poynter ran with it.These boys did the deed, bragged about it – typical – and got caught as a result. When their tears receive more coverage than the survivors something is amiss. Perhaps that attitude and appeal to tolerance that this story engenders is why we have such high rape rates. Get it right. It is never Ok to rape. Ever.

    “approximately 2/3 of assaults are committed by someone known to the
    victim,” and “38 percent of rapists are a friend or acquaintance.” – you seem to be saying that because it is a common crime that is some kind of excuse. How long have you been writing and what are your credentials to pass judgement – a you a rape survivor in denial? I’ve met a few of those too, “oh, I survived it, and its not that big a deal.” I signed and shared the petition and you should go take a very long look in the mirror.

  • http://www.facebook.com/skywrtr Ellen Kirkland

    That sounds like back pedaling at this point. Its your hole, you dug it, now you get to live in it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/skywrtr Ellen Kirkland

    Poynter should fire your ass.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=512038897 Lindsay Hammond

    Media organizations have a responsibility to report the facts in an unbiased fashion that minimizes harm where possible.

  • http://twitter.com/Ultimafax Michael Brooks

    This column seems to be one written in order to get attention, one that is attempting to go against the popular opinion in order to gain hits and comments. If it is, then I simultaneously tip my hat and become frustrated that Poynter published it.

    If it isn’t, it’s incredibly misguided. It’s one thing to say that in all the anger at CNN, we must not forget the bigger picture, that a 16-year-old girl was raped. It’s something else entirely to say that criticizing CNN is pointless. The former goes without saying, because the people who are angry at CNN have NOT forgotten the bigger picture. The latter is not only utterly ridiculous, but completely irresponsible.

    CNN deserves to be shamed, and they should be ashamed of themselves. They owe an apology to their audience as a whole for their irresponsible and ridiculous coverage.

  • Xira

    That rape should have a meaning other than ‘touched inappropriately when the government won’t allow you to consent’.

  • Xira

    Wikipedia is better than any encyclopedia. Believe it or not. Especially on the major points.

    I also cited the census and FBI. Those should fit your definition.

  • Xira

    When I use a word, Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, it means just what I choose it to meanneither more nor less. The question is, said Alice, whether you can make words mean so many different things. The question is, said Humpty Dumpty, which is to be masterthats all. – Carroll, Lewis

  • Xira

    If society wants to criminalize ‘ungentlemanly behavior’ or ‘lifestyle crimes’ then I can not stop it. I think that the penalty for such behavior should not be too severe, and we should stop changing the legal definition of words to mean all sorts of things they didn’t used to mean.

  • http://twitter.com/KimberlyLauffer Kimberly Lauffer

    Thanks for your thoughts, Kelly. If the only thing that comes out of this whole media mess is that people start talking more about rape culture, the deification of athletes, etc., perhaps we as a people will begin to evolve in the way we react at a visceral level to these things not just being reported on or discussed in the media but happening within our midst. Also, an interesting take here: http://www.underthegunreview.net/2013/03/18/henry-rollins-comments-on-steubenville-rape-verdict/ that I thought I’d share.

  • http://twitter.com/kellymcb Kelly McBride

    You could definitely do both. But what I would love to see is more news orgs taking the opportunity to explore how confused people are about consent.

  • http://www.facebook.com/maggiewa05 Maggie Akume

    I guess some of us don’t understand why we can’t both call out CNN AND do some of the other various things you’ve talked about like have victims share their stories?
    I’m not sure why this is an either/or situation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/maggiewa05 Maggie Akume

    Why not both?

  • http://www.facebook.com/maggiewa05 Maggie Akume

    You don’t have a problem with the sentence, you have a problem with the conviction. Really big difference there. No sentence would have been acceptable to you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/maggiewa05 Maggie Akume

    They ADMITTED she weas “dead” at that point their defense of “she consented” was long gone.

  • http://www.facebook.com/maggiewa05 Maggie Akume

    Yes, and if they hit her knee there’d be a relex too.
    Seriously, WHAT THE HELL IS YOUR POINT?

  • http://www.facebook.com/maggiewa05 Maggie Akume

    You’ve posted that EXACT same thing multiple places now, it makes me even less inclided to 1) Read it 2) Believe anything you say.
    Between cutting an pasting posts and citing wikipedia your credibility on a scale of 1 to 10 is -3

  • http://www.facebook.com/maggiewa05 Maggie Akume

    is there a reason you’re citing wiki rather than something considered even remotely academic or trustworthy?

  • Xira

    Well, if you read the Wikipedia article, it clearly states that they asked college age girls if anything had happened to them that ‘fits the legal definition of rape’. Rather than forcible rape, or the common sense definition.

    1 in 4 girls have something happen to them that fits the legal definition of rape. I’m not arguing that. I’m saying that the legal definition is extreme and over-broad.

  • http://twitter.com/kellymcb Kelly McBride

    Thanks for this affirmation, Zena.

  • http://twitter.com/kellymcb Kelly McBride

    Trust me, no one paid me anything for this column, outside my Poynter salary.

  • http://www.facebook.com/freddie.potter.104 Freida Potter

    You are a huge part of the problem.

    Prosecuting someone for having sex with an underage child is called “statutory rape” — neither Mays nor Richmond were charged with this crime.

    Having sex with a girl who was so drunk she could *not* consent is *rape* — which both Mays and Richmond were convicted of, in large part due to their *own* texts/photos/videos that they posted on social media and sent to their friends.

    Sadly, any kid so devoid of a conscience as to not realize that assaulting unconscious women is a crime — even at the ripe old age of 16 or 17 — is pretty much a sociopath.

  • http://twitter.com/kellymcb Kelly McBride

    Xira, I think some of these definitions and numbers are confusing. The statistics on the incidence of sexual assault are very consistent and reliable. The 1 in 4 number for girls has held up over many different studies. Researchers that I trust cite it. So I’m not inclined to believe differently.

  • Christian Avard

    The weird twist to this story is that it was exposed by social media, a tool we all use at our disposal as journalists.

    http://dartcenter.org/content/social-media-trial#.UUipuxl9yD5

  • Xira

    That is still counted as ‘forcible rape’ actually. The definitions get a little fruity, which is what I’m complaining about here. Basically, if the girl didn’t consent, it’s counted as forcible rape, not just when physical force is used.

  • Justsayinhere

    Yes. And what goes with criticizing the CNN coverage, naturally, is demanding more sympathy for the victims and explanations about how it is to be raped. This article fails to see that aspect of the criticism and thinks that people just want to see the criminals villainized. Somewhat, but it’s more complicated than that. I think much of the CNN coverage would’ve been just fine if they’d just added a “and that’s why you shouldn’t rape” mentality to those statements.

  • Justsayinhere

    If somebody said “let me take of your clothes or I’ll slit your throat”, I’d say ‘yes’ too. Doesn’t make it any more of a legal thing to do or not rape.

  • disqus_E3XJ9sPATc

    How can you even say don’t sign it and claim to be someone that is against rape. You are being paid by the media to try and defer this. I hope you wake up from your darkness and realize you have sold your humanity to the mighty dollar$. Please hold these people responsible for their lack of humanity.

  • http://www.thisistrue.com Randy Cassingham

    While holding up good coverage as an example is a good idea, it is not a “waste of time” to criticize bad coverage. CNN is rightly the target of criticism, and it’s important for them to know about it.

  • http://twitter.com/yoonzena Zena

    I didn’t sign that petition because I found it very confusing. Does it mean that press is allowed to cover events only in a certain way like what we had in the USSR? I couldn’t sign my name to something I didn’t quite understand. But I can and will believe that the victim will have a fulfilled life, and the criminals will become better human beings. And none of them will be in such a horrific situation again.

  • Xira

    I’ll agree with this. Drug sentences are way out of line too…

  • Xira

    One of the videos they took showed her ‘responding positively’ to being fondled.

    I’m not arguing that what they did was ‘gentlemanly’ or ‘appropriate’. I’m saying it shouldn’t be called rape.

    I’m also not saying she didn’t eventually pass out, but apparently that came later.

  • Xira

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rape
    http://www.ramapo.edu/facultystaff/publicsafety/fbi.html
    Some good definitions as to exactly what the legal system views as ‘rape’.

    http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s0314.pdf
    Stats on ‘forcible rape’.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rape_statistics

    Stats on ‘all rape’.

    The difference between the two is enormous. Looking at 2005 for instance, 191,670 ‘rapes’ and 82,835 ‘forcible’.

    That means that in over half of all ‘rape’ cases the woman said ‘yes’.

  • JH

    Just a question — where did you read this part:
    They touched a girl who was touching them back and saying ‘yes more please’.

    Everything I read say she was unconscious.

  • http://twitter.com/kellymcb Kelly McBride

    Do you have a link for that? I haven’t seen those numbers.

  • http://twitter.com/kellymcb Kelly McBride

    I agree that this incident reveals something horribly wrong about our culture. These boys didn’t create that culture. I’m not absolving them of responsibility. But I don’t think you can ignore the broader context.

  • Joe Ganz

    Men have NOT been portrayed as monsters for as long as rape had a name, and I think we can all agree how well that’s going. So don’t you worry about them….Try to take a long view of it: This week the UN fought off an alliance by Iran, the Vatican, Russia and others to finally get a declaration of women’s rights passed. There was yet another gang rape in India so gruesome it made international news. I’m not even starting on the Middle East. Also, we just ended an election featuring expressions such as “legitimate rape”. These women on CNN are part of the problem, or at the very least, they are certainly not part of the solution.

  • http://twitter.com/kellymcb Kelly McBride

    I completely agree with you. I wish that some of the news orgs that are spending so much space on the CNN controversy would find some survivors to tell their stories.

  • http://twitter.com/kellymcb Kelly McBride

    I don’t believe having sympathy for an offender precludes me from being shocked at their sentences, especially when I compare them to the sentences that some teens receive for drug offenders.

  • Xira

    You are the problem. Running to the nanny state every time something goes wrong. Causing millions of bad laws to be passed that ensnare even the most innocent of behavior.

    Rather than learning a lesson ‘don’t get smash-faced around guys’ they put it on the guy and ruin a few lives on the way down.

  • castingstones2

    Thanks for being part of the problem.

  • Xira

    Rape isn’t that common. It’s estimated that over 90% of local girls have been ‘raped’ by age 17.. I’m sure you are wondering how they came up with that number? They gave a 3 question essay “Have you ever had sex? Have you even been touched sexually? Have you ever touched anyone sexually?” Nothing about violence or force or drugs or consent. You see….16 year old girls aren’t ALLOWED to consent around here. So two 16 year-olds go at it with each other, both are instantly guilty of rape. A 16 year old sexually touches a 15 year old, he/she is guilty of rape.

    The legal meaning of rape is not even close it it’s common sense or historical meaning. The government decides when it’s ok for you to say ‘yes’. Your pleas to “F&CK ME HARDER” just make your sex partner a more enthusiastic rapist. Being 0.01 over the limit can make your partner/husband/wife a rapist.

    Real rape incidence is far lower than your numbers suggest.

  • Xira

    They touched a girl who was touching them back and saying ‘yes more please’.

    Rape isn’t that common. It’s estimated that over 90% of local girls have been ‘raped’ by age 17.. I’m sure you are wondering how they came up with that number? They gave a 3 question essay “Have you ever had sex? Have you even been touched sexually? Have you ever touched anyone sexually?” Nothing about violence or force or drugs or consent. You see….16 year old girls aren’t ALLOWED to consent around here. So two 16 year-olds go at it with each other, both are instantly guilty of rape. A 16 year old sexually touches a 15 year old, he/she is guilty of rape.

    The legal meaning of rape is not even close it it’s common sense or historical meaning. The government decides when it’s ok for you to say ‘yes’. Your pleas to “F&CK ME HARDER” just make your sex partner a more enthusiastic rapist.

    Real rape incidence is far lower than your numbers suggest.

  • Xira

    Rape isn’t that common. It’s estimated that over 90% of local girls have been ‘raped’ by age 17.. I’m sure you are wondering how they came up with that number? They gave a 3 question essay “Have you ever had sex? Have you even been touched sexually? Have you ever touched anyone sexually?” Nothing about violence or force or drugs or consent. You see….16 year old girls aren’t ALLOWED to consent around here. So two 16 year-olds go at it with each other, both are instantly guilty of rape. A 16 year old sexually touches a 15 year old, he/she is guilty of rape.

    The legal meaning of rape is not even close it it’s common sense or historical meaning. The government decides when it’s ok for you to say ‘yes’. Your pleas to “F&CK ME HARDER” just make your sex partner a more enthusiastic rapist.

    ‘Real’ rape incidence is far lower than your numbers suggest. You can be convicted of anything in a million-laws police state, this is just more proof.

  • http://twitter.com/fran_the_man Francis Materi

    Why can’t we both commend good coverage and ‘rail’ against insensitive or poor coverage? The frustration with CNN is NOT misplaced. Readers and viewers often paint media with the same brush. CNN’s sympathetic tone did a disservice to all journalists. We can’t overlook that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/freddie.potter.104 Freida Potter

    Richmond and Mays were convicted of sexually assaulting 16 yr old Jane Doe – they committed a monstrous act and wrecked their own lives. I have zero sympathy for *either* of them. Actions have consequences – which include being denied many, many opportunities in favour of folks who have NOT been convicted of sexual assault. Both boys got ridiculously light sentences as juveniles (they could be out in as little as 1-2 yrs) but at least they will be registered sex offenders for LIFE.

    Both Richmond and Mays *deserve* to be shamed for their utterly deplorable contact. Jane Doe does not deserve to be shamed for her conduct — she’s the *victim*. She mistakenly trusted people she thought were her friends (and, really, there but grace go I. How many people haven’t done something stupid and ill considered and dangerous that could and probably should have ended badly but by some stroke of luck didn’t at age 16?!?).

  • castingstones2

    As a survivor that respects this organization, I am so disappointed in this piece. Media organizations have a responsibility to speak for the voiceless instead CNN empowered those that took their voices away.

  • Andrew Russo

    “Portraying all rapists as monsters and refusing them any sympathy creates a dynamic in which it’s impossible to acknowledge how many ordinary and common rapists live among us. (According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, “approximately 2/3 of assaults are committed by someone known to the victim,” and “38 percent of rapists are a friend or acquaintance.)”
    I do not get your point. sexual contact with someone who is incapacitated or unwilling seems pretty clear to me. I think you are trying to generate connfusion for some reason I cannot understand. Those boys deserve no sympathy at all. They did something they knew was wrong and they are being punished for it. If they didn’t realize it was wrong it is only worse. That CNN lamented in any way the “losses” these boys suffered is disguesting and deeply disturbing. Change the word “rape” to “murder” and see how all of this reads. If they had killed her no one would care about these boys lost potential. This entire incident shows a deep rot in our culture that is very alarming.

  • http://ks2problema.wordpress.com/ KS2 Problema

    I already signed the petition in question — and I’m still definitely glad I did — but there are some good points in this piece and some important things to remember about the always complicated subject of sexual violence. These rapists and the onlookers may not be monsters in the sense that Idi Amin was a monster, but they were certainly on their way.

    The CNN coverage cannot go unremarked and uncriticized. I’m sorry.

  • castingstones2

    “Railing against missteps or an imbalance in coverage makes us less likely to take up powerful stories” Why would that be the result? We bring behavior to light for change to happen. Very disappointed in this piece.

  • http://www.facebook.com/s424h Sarah Harper

    Rape apologist apologism.

  • http://www.facebook.com/KGLNYC Kevin Lawrence

    I’m sorry, but this is an incredibly misguided essay. Journalists have a responsibility to report news-worthy stories in an ethical manner that doesn’t willfully obscure the issues they are reporting. CNN’s coverage of this rape conviction left the viewer with a strong and inescapable impression that an injustice had been perpetrated against these two rapists, when in point of fact these young men were handed down an arguably lenient sentence of justice for the malicious, criminal acts they perpetrated against an unconscious, unwilling young woman. Does that make them “monsters”? No, of course not; but it does make them criminals who should and will need to register as sexual offenders for the rest of their lives because that is what they are: convicted sexual offenders. You can humanize rapists and let us know how prevalent they are all you want, but please call a spade for a spade — these young men are rapists who are justly answering now for their criminal behavior. CNN and you, Ms. McBride, should stop trying to obscure that.