Challenges journalists are facing while covering the Steubenville, Ohio, rape

The Daily Beast | Slate | BuzzFeed
Hackers associated with the group Anonymous have been helping to spread information about the horrific alleged rape that occurred in Steubenville, Ohio, last summer. And they’ve made it clear that they don’t think the case is being taken seriously enough. One of them tells Daily Beast reporter Winston Ross that if two members of the high school football team accused of the crime aren’t convicted, “we won’t hunt them down in a physical sense—no pitchforks.” But, he said, “I know we could make their lives very difficult.”

The role Anonymous “now plays in this case is certainly hard to reconcile, morally,” Amanda Marcotte writes in Slate. The group “has been vital in getting out at least some of the evidence of the assault to the media,” Marcotte writes, by digging up online information about people it suspects are involved in the crime. Part of the challenge for journalists is figuring out how much of the information to use, and how much of it is accurate.

By stepping in and holding people accountable, Anonymous stands a very good chance of taking action that actually does something to stop rape. But: This type of online vigilante justice is potentially invading the privacy of or defaming innocent Steubenville residents, and even if everything published is true, there are very serious legal limits to the Anonymous strategy.

One of the other challenges is balancing coverage of the accusers and the afflicted. Katie Heaney writes about “the glorified athlete suspect,” calling out “the media’s inordinate, and frequently fawning, emphasis on [Steubenville's] high school football team.” In her graduate studies, Heaney writes, she examined data on college sexual assaults in Minnesota over 12 years and was struck by the “proportion of news coverage lent to describing the alleged suspects’ athletic achievements.”

Unless we believe that athletic prowess in and of itself contributes to goodness of character, unless we believe that our heroes can do no wrong simply because they are our heroes, these records and these achievements have no place in media coverage of violent crime.

Related: This rape infographic is going viral. Too bad it’s wrong.

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  • Bill

    No, dude. You don’t get it.

    1. The article clearly has a headline that says “… in the Steubenville case” – and this whole article is about the Steubenville case. It is only you who wants to make it about something else. I know you don’t want to debate the issue on the table. But trying to bring in other issues to cloud the issue is simply a debate tactic. One that often works but I’m gonna call BS on it here.

    2. Please stop referencing Amanda Marcotte. She is a typical Slate writer. These folks have taken to becoming glorified trolls as one astute blogger recently pointed out. They don’t write articles as much as they try to find another viewpoint or angle just to troll. If everyone agrees chocolate ice cream is great a writer at Slate will invariably do 5000 words on how chocolate ice cream is destroying us all. Had you even heard of Amanda Marcotte before she wrote this article? No. Because she’s a nobody trying to make her name by writing it. Sadly, she has succeeded to a degree. And like I said I think it is because it fits the narrative of the so called “mainstream” journalists who feel they are under attack by groups like Anonymous.

    3. The use of anonymous quotes is rampant in the so called “mainstream” press these days and we are often asked to just take them at their word. Meanwhile, the government asks for more and more information to be classified. More and more things are covered up by the government and our elected officials. Destroying all trust. As I already pointed out in another post the mainstream press is now often told what to do by people inside Washington regarding things that everyone else in the world reports on a regular basis. Which is again is why people are turning to sources like Anonymous for information. At least they show us the evidence they are talking about in each case. Despite the use of Guy Fawkes masks. (And by the way. Not everyone considers Guy Fawkes a terrorist. As it has been said many times before one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist. Seriously. Suppose George Washington had caved at Valley Forge and the Continental Army had collapsed. You think Sam Adams wouldn’t have been considered a “terrorist” in our British History class in 9th grade.)

    4. And this is key to why you’re getting bashed here. When you speak out against someone who has brought international attention to a horrible crime it will always appear that you are in favor of keeping that crime swept under the carpet. You can say you think rape is a horrible crime but it doesn’t seem like that. You come off as no different that the pro-Catholic church posters who didn’t want to investigate the horrible rape culture that was fostered in that institution or the clueless students who rioted because Joe Pa was forced to step down. Sorry. But that’s just the way it is. You come off as a rape defender. Whether you mean it that way or not.

    So either debate the issue on the table and dispute my points or admit defeat. I would pick admit defeat if I were you but I don’t think you have the humility required for that.

  • Bill Marvel

    Still don’t get it, do you Bill?
    Please carefully reread the article. The subject is not Steubenville, as much as you would like it is. The subject is the difficult decisions journalists have to make in assessing the ethics of using information being supplied by Anonymous. As Amanda Marcotte clearly states in the second paragraph, “The role Anonymous now plays in this case is certainly hard to reconcile, morally…”
    Nobody — repeat nobody — here is being an “apologists” for rape. Just so you are clear on this, let me assert again what I’ve already said: Rape is a vicious, violent, immoral and illegal act. Rapists need to be arrested, tried, convicted and vigorously punished. I think everyone who has commented here can agree on that. I have every problem, Bill, with “a group of boys who posted all over the web that they ‘raped’ a girl .” I do not think that is okay.
    But that’s not what the article is about. So let’s move on to what the article IS about.
    Quoting, again: “This type of online vigilante justice is potentially invading the
    privacy of or defaming innocent Steubenville residents, and even if
    everything published is true, there are very serious legal limits to the
    Anonymous strategy.”
    You DO understand that sentence, right?
    My arguments as a journalist who spent years covering cops and courts are as follows:
    (1) It is unethical to use “information” from an anonymous source because it is impossible to asses the accuracy or motives of the source. I know, I know: A few journalists have done this from time to time. They should know better. Relying on an anonymous source always costs a journalist his or her credibility, which is the most valuable thing a journalist has to offer: Where did you get this information? How do we know we can trust it — and trust you?
    (2) Over and beyond that, Anonymous presents special problems to the journalist, as it should to any thinklng citizen. Operating behind its mask, its members are free to act with impunity, to exercise its very considerable power without public scrutiny. Because we don’t know who those members are, — Anonymous denies it has members, but it very clearly does — we don’t know how or why they make their decisions. All we can do is go by their track record, which includes hacking, harassment, denial of service and system shutdown to those religious institutions, government agencies, private corporations and individuals that its members for one reason or another do not approve of. Such sweeping and arbitrary power is terrifying in the hands of a government agency, say for example the CIA or FBI ; why is it any less so in the hands of a secret organization.? (Once again, it is worth pointing out that Anonymous has chosen as its public mask the face of a notorious terrorist, a bomber in fact.e

  • Bill

    Bill -

    You are really off track here. This article is about the Steubenville case. It isn’t about the Dallas Police Department. What you’re trying to do is the equivalent of bringing up Mike Tyson rape case and saying these boys must be guilty because they are athletes and we all know from the Tyson case that athletes are guilty of rape.

    Debate what is happening here. Did the members of this group KnightSec break any laws? If so please give us an example. So far no one has indicated they have done anything except let the world know what was already out there on the web. Posted by the boys themselves.If you have any different information please post it.

    If not then you have to explain to the rest of the people you are debating why we shouldn’t have a problem with a group of boys who posted all over the web that they “raped” a girl and that she was a “dead person”. Those are their own words. If you think that is okay than please explain to the rest of us why you think that. Without bringing in a story about the Dallas PD or Scientology.

  • Bill Marvel

    “with no semblance of a trial”
    Precisely the problem with Anonymous. Would you rather trust your fate to the law and the courts, or to a bunch of people hidden behind the mask (of a 15th-Century terrorist, by the way) who answer to nobody, do their work in secret, and wield unchallenged power?
    And these electronic bully-boys have your “absolute support”? How do you feel about Anonymous taking down the Dallas Police Department website Mario, or their attack on the FBI? If website information is “public by default,” then isn’t any attack on a website an attack upon the public?

  • gold6185

    Throw these rapists in the slammer-bottom line.

  • Mario Gonzales

    Yes, when they are posting videos made by the rapists themselves bragging about seeing their first dead body and celebrating the fact that their own 10 year old daughters should be raped to death when time comes, yes, I support Anonymous.

    All information on the Internet IS public by default, and when relevant information is gathered and made more accessible, all the better.

    I absolutely support anonymous; without them, nothing at all would be done in this case.

    There still may be nothing done about the coach who provided the minors with alcohol for the party at his house, the coach with naked pictures of his female students on his school computer, the DA who threatened to ruin the victim’s life if she persisted in wanting to file charges, and most especially if the rape apologists continue to think that making criminals squirm is somehow wrong.

    And anonymous are not vigilantes. I’m a native Texan, and I can assure you that vigilantes string people up, set their bodies on fire and leave them with no semblance of a trial. See, THOSE are vigilantes, but yes, they exist when the court and law system don’t do their jobs.

  • Mario Gonzales

    Very well said. Thank you.

  • Mario Gonzales

    Well said. Thank you.

  • Bill Marvel

    If all Anonymous did was “release information,” none of us would have much of a problem. Anonymous uses its internet power for a variety of purposes, many of them illegal, all of them profoundly threatening. Hacking, denial of service, shutting down websites. Who will be its next victim. Anonymous will decide. Does that make you feel comfortable? Before riding to its defense, what say you do a little research on the gang’s activities.

  • Marci Brooks


  • Marci Brooks

    Thank you for have a clear perspective about the world news.

  • Marci Brooks

    The police are corrupt but not ever single person in the small town deserves to be blasted off of the face of the earth. The wiki on Steubenville is not new. I am pleased to know that the rest of the world finally noticed and perhaps my home my finally get some true federal assistance.

  • Marci Brooks

    Steubenville is composed of more than minor children who play football. The information released is about an on going investigation. Steubenville has a history of corruption. My grandfather died last month and is a retired sherif-William Emerson Brooks and my Grandmother cooked in the Steubenville Jails. My mother took the water billing from analog to digital and manually input the information back in the second half of the ’70s. The entire city is being bullied by the world media.

  • Marci Brooks

    They are all children. Last I checked, 16 is a minor. Why were all of the minors left unsupervised? Why must all of the students of Big Red suffer? Not everyone is a jock. The city is diverse and has a rich cultural and historical heritage. Rape is terrible. I have been raped. My entire city is now a victim of one rape. I have been sexually assaulted and now my place of birth is under fire due to sex crimes committed by minors. What am I supposed to do to rebuild my home? I am a Veteran of The USAF. I did nothing wrong. The land is innocent even if the residents are not. HELP!!! HAVE MERCY!!!

  • Bill Marvel

    I’m proposing that what Anonymous practices is really electronic thuggery. That sometimes they practice it on people we dislike doesn’t change the nature of the act.

  • angie jones

    So.. you’re equating the release of info with beating someone. Hardly equivilant.

  • Bill

    But these articles were not written about Anonymous’ “other activities”. They are written about this case right here and they all infer that Anonymous hacked people in Steubenville. None of these articles mention Scientology or the recording industry. You’re bringing in issues that have no bearing on this article or any of the other articles that have appeared in Slate and the Atlantic this week. Which is why I wonder about the timing of these articles and why they suddenly appeared. Slate didn’t write an article after the NY Times article appeared. Do you care about rape or the threat of a group like Anonymous and what that means for mainstream journalism?

    As for the argument that the mainstream press signs their articles I’ve always found that to be pretty silly. I don’t know who these people are. I didn’t know who Jayson Blair was and I was told to believe his writing because he wrote for the Times. That’s not even getting into the large number of articles that all of these news outlets print without naming a single source. I’m supposed to believe them. Why? I know the government lies to me on a regular basis. Why should I believe anything they say? At least Anonymous shows me the pictures and video so I can decide for myself. That’s more than I get from the government and the so called “mainstream” press.

    The New York Times and the Obama WH didn’t admit the guy who murdered two young men in Pakistan was a CIA contractor until the Guardian came out with the information. Despite the fact that all the papers in the region said he was a CIA contractor from day one. (Yeah, I take the time to read papers outside the US.) Then the Times admitted they knew the whole time but didn’t run it because the White House told them not to do so. The White House’s explanation was is would put the CIA contractor at risk DESPITE THE FACT that everyone in Pakistan already knew he was CIA. The only people who didn’t know were the citizens of this country. Are these the folks I’m suppose to trust? The state run Grey Lady. Puleeze.

  • Marci Brooks

    They are all children. Last I checked, 16 is a minor. Why were all of the minors left unsupervised? Why must all of the students of Big Red suffer? Not everyone is a jock. The city is diverse and has a rich cultural and historical heritage. Rape is terrible. I have been raped. My entire city is now a victim of one rape. I have been sexually assaulted and now my place of birth is under fire due to crimes committed by minors. What am I supposed to do to rebuild my home? I am a Veteran of The USAF. I did nothing wrong. The land is innocent even if the residents are not. HELP!!! HAVE MERCY!!!

  • Bill Marvel

    “We should question anyone who pushes an agenda. Whether it is the government, the mainstream press or anyone else.”

    Government is answerable to voters. We know who “the mainstream press” is. Articles are signed; editors are listed on the masthead. “Anyone else” is subject to the law and the courts. Anonymous, by definition, is not.

    “you would think that the people at Anonymous had hacked people’s computers.”

    In fact, they have, again and again. Justice Department, the FBI, the Dallas Police Department, Church of Scientology, UK government websites, the recording industry. Just a few of their targets. They’ve denied access to computer services, tied systems in knots. Do a litttle research, for heaven’s sakes. My point is not about Steubenville. My point is about Anonymous. Suppose I grant every argument you make about Steubenvile. Tell me, what do you think of Anonymous’ other activities?

  • Bill Marvel

    If a thug comes in and beats up a bully, who’s gonna protect us from the thug?

  • Bill

    I’ll answer your last question. Sure. We should question anyone who pushes an agenda. Whether it is the government, the mainstream press or anyone else.

    My problem with this case is that suddenly this week there are a lot of articles in the “mainstream” press talking about this story and the angle has mostly been about whether Anonymous has a right to broadcast this case and attaching the word “vigilante” to their actions. Yet in this case it was actually a blogger in Ohio who kept the story alive, the NY Times that finally took it up in December and finally the Anonymous folks. Not only that but Anonymous has never “hacked” anyone in this case. They haven’t done anything illegal. And if putting video evidence out on-line and publicizing it is now considered the actions of a vigilante – then we’re going to have to look at any NGO, celebrity or foundation who does promotion for their causes and what they perceive to be injustices as well. Somehow, I don’t think most people consider Sara Mclachlan a vigilante because she pushes for action against animal abuse in those Humane Society spots.

    So what is the beef with Anonymous in this case. I’m going to continue to argue that the people at Slate, the New Yorker, CNN and others have questioned the efficacy of Anonymous’s action simply because they were able to do what even the NY Times could not. Marshall national indignation over this case. Which is something the old press used to be able to do all the time, whether on 60 Minutes or in the daily paper.

    I am also concerned at the sloppiness of the reporting by the so called mainstream press as well. If you read these articles you would think that the people at Anonymous had hacked people’s computers. They did not. They accessed files that were on-line. Just like businesses have been doing to their workers for at least ten or fifteen years. Haven’t you people gotten the memo. If it is on the Internet it can be retrieved without even breaking the law. Which is what is truly troubling about these kids. They ratted themselves out and still some of them might get off. The kids themselves called it a rape. Seriously. How is there another “side” to this.

    They’ve also failed to report the many, many, many articles from the Ohio Valley about similar cases that have surrounded this football program for years. I just started reading about this story over the weekend and just using Google I’ve found many similar stories going back for years with comments and letters to the editor from both anonymous citizens and ones who included their names saying exactly what Local Leaks is alleging happened in this case. It isn’t hard to figure out what has been going on in Steubenville. It is just shocking that no one ever wrote about it before this case. Which just shows how repugnant and over the top this one is.

  • Bill Marvel

    Let’s start by agreeing that rape is always a vicious, immoral act that ought to be vigorously prosecuted and punished. We’re all clear on that, right?

    Now, let’s think for a moment about Anonymous, what they do and the power they wield, invisibly, unchecked, unanswerable to anyone but themselves. This time they picked a target that perhaps we feel had it coming. What about next time? Are we all confident they’ll pick someone equally as “deserving ?” How do they choose their targets, what are their criteria? Who elected them judge and jury? They’ve taken on the church of Scientology. Fine. I’m not a Scientologist. No skin off my back. What if they decide to go after your church, or mine for some reason — failure to deal with abuse, for example, or teaching homosexuality s sinful? Or they just don’t like its doctrine? Or your employer somehow offends them? Or your country? Or YOU offend them, say, by publishing their names?

    Isn’t it the job of journalists to challenge power, or at least question it? Especially power on the scale anonymous potentially wields. Do we mistrust vigilantes only when we sympathize with the victim? Or is there something distasteful, creepy even frightening about vigilantes no matter who they target? To repeat my original question: Is there any reason we should consider Anonymous anything but online thuggery, a gang of strutting bullies and a potential menace to us all?

  • Anfy

    And regardless, Anonymous is only releasing information and evidence that would be widely available if the police in a crooked town did their job.

    This is the counter-weight to small towns where those in power are able to control absolutely everything. Football Coach has sway? The police will do him a favor. A kid’s parent is a judge? The police will look the other way. That’s just the way small towns work.

  • Bill

    Read about the case before you comment please! Nothing that Anonymous has done has affected the case. 1. It had already been moved to juvenile court so there isn’t any jury to influence. Therefore no appeal. 2. The boys made all of this public long before Anonymous even got involved. So everyone in Steubenville already knew about it. 3. The girl’s father spoke out this last Saturday and thanked Anonymous. 4. As far as not knowing what they did. Well, there is already public record of the pre-trial testimony and it is quite damning. That along with the public pics they released themselves should have put these boys behind bars for years. Unfortunately unless the Feds decide to do something different they’ll at most be in jail until they are 21.

    One more thing. Learn how to spell properly before you post again. This isn’t texting with you teenage friends. It is “taken” not “taking”.

  • Sergio Mabres

    thanks so much Anonymous

  • wisdombody

    i think what most ppl are missing is the as much as anonymous brought this to the spot it may actually hurt the case too…. they probably are going to have to move to a change of venue a mistrial or even if they are convicted it possibly get them an appeal bc of how evidence has become public we don’t know what happened i don’t care what pics & the dumb kids said…. & maybe this girl didn’t want the video & pics released again after they were taking down..

  • Christopher Dunson

    Whose face is known and whose is hidden. That says it all.

  • Bill

    Dude. No one asked these little miscreants to post their crime on the web. No one said – hey, when you rape a girl go on-line and admit to the crime. Then make jokes about it and sent a pic to the victim’s Father. They did that. The fact that we still have to go through all this is simply because justice wasn’t coming from the small town of Steubenville. This is no different than when 60 Minutes used to do similar things i a different age. And Anonymous didn’t even have to “hack” anyone. get your facts straight.

  • Bill Marvel

    “Now Anonymous is trying to bring her the justice she deserves.” And what about the next time Anonymous takes it into its head to bring someone to justice, deserved or not. Regardless of the target in this case, can you see any argument against considering the members of Anonymous anything other than vigilantes, a gang of thugs intent upon making their collective will the law?

  • shannonbullock

    The “justice” system failed that girl. Now Anonymous is trying to bring her the justice she deserves. Call it what you want, but I for one support everything they’ve done to give this girl a voice and some dignity after the way she was treated not only during this terrible night, but also in the months afterward. By the rapists, their protectors, by the officials who covered up what happened, by the disgusting rape apologist athletics employees at the football fetishizing school, and by the townspeople who have shown the world they care more about high school football than a child being gang raped by their heroes. The whole town is a cesspool that should be uncovered for what it is – a place for rapists and their supporters to cheer on animalistic crimes against women and children and high school football. Go Red!!!

  • Bill

    Oh, and when people go around saying they raped someone are we supposed to take them at their word or think to ourselves “Maybe they don’t know what they are saying. He says he raped that girl but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt.”


  • Bill

    Wow. The rape apologists are out in force now.

    This is really a simple case here. A bunch of boys rape a passed out girl for six hours and then bragged about their despicable act on-line through Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. They even sent pics to the father of the victim. As a society we can’t allow this to happen. Case closed.

    Now you can spin it all you want to create a “story” here but that is almost as despicable as the acts of these boys and the community of Steubanville who wants to cover this up.

    As for Amanda Marcotte. She’s a new Slate writer and seems to want to get her name out there by looking at this from a “different” angle. Obviously she wants to move her career along and she seems to have accomplished that. Hope she’s proud of herself. Maybe she can give us the other side of Adolf Hitler or the KKK in her next article. I’d really like to think more kindly of those people as well.

  • Bill Marvel

    The problem with Anonymous is that it wields tremendous power without any possibility of outside checks. It appoints itself judge and jury and yet answers to no one. Is this the kid of unchallenged power we want to see set loose? Do we trust Anonymous to pick its targets wisely? On what grounds? What do we say when Anonymous decides it doesn’t like what we’re doing or saying or writing? Who will defend us against a gang of hackers who remain cloaked only in their own sense of self-righteousness? These are the questions we journalists should be asking. Beyond that, they are questions everybody should be asking..