The following story appeared in Verde Magazine, published on April 9, 2013. The views and opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily representative of that of The Paly Voice or any of its staff members. This story appears on The Paly Voice per the request of Verde Magazine.
“It was incredibly emotional, incredibly difficult… to watch as these two young men that had such promising futures… literally watch[ed] as their [lives] fell apart.”
One would expect this comment, made by CNN correspondent Poppy Harlow this March, to follow a tragic accident such as a car crash. But in fact, Harlow, while representing a major news outlet, was talking about the fate of two teenage rapists. CNN isn’t the only one.
As a whole, mainstream media coverage of the August 2012 rape case in Steubenville, Ohio has been riddled with flaws, including an inappropriate slant in the perpetrators’ favor and misplaced attacks on social media.
Mainstream media’s biggest mistake was to adopt an overwhelmingly sympathetic attitude towards the two students on trial. News outlets such as ABC News, NBC News and USA Today chose to mourn the perpetrators’ lost futures and blame the deplorable acts on the influence of alcohol rather than just plain poor judgment. While publications need not skew reporting in favor of the victim, neutral coverage of the Steubenville case was sorely lacking.
Several news groups blamed social media as the problem — as if the issue here was that the acts were documented, not that they were carried out.
Even Thomas Lipps, the judge assigned to the boys’ trial, urged teens to “have discussions about how you talk to your friends; how you record things on the social media so prevalent today.” Rather than telling youth to stand up against rape, Lipps seems to be advising them to simply cover their tracks better. Sites like Twitter and Instagram brought the rapists to justice. They were not the unfortunate catalysts for the boys’ “undeserved” demise.
In the future, greater care should be taken to provide fair, uneditorialized coverage of such a controversial and solemn topic. Fellow student and professional journalists: we urge you to scrutinize how you’re covering these controversial issues. Be careful where you direct your journalistic focus. Although there is a story in how the boys’ lives will be affected, this is not where attention should be directed at this time. The challenge that most deserves public awareness is preventing rape.
And readers, pay attention to how the media portrays sensitive and controversial issues. Examine how certain topics are reported, and what information may be emphasized or neglected in the process.
In tackling the heavy topic in this issue, Verde has kept these questions in mind. While you read our cover package on rape (starting on p. 14), we hope you will see our coverage as objective and our columns as adequately researched and justified.
If you or someone you know has been sexually abused, you don’t have to keep quiet.
Get help by calling RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1.800.656.HOPE
or the local YWCA of Silicon Valley’s crisis hotline 650.493.7273
“You can’t tell me I wasn’t raped” by Lisie Sabbag
From a different perspective: a discussion with Paly guys by Lisie Sabbag
Taking it Seriously: Ever made a rape joke? This column is for you by Savannah Cordova
Check out the PDF of Verde Magazine on issuu
For secondary coverage of this magazine package, click here
For a copy of the letter sent to faculty before the release of this issue, click here