CNN criticized for Steubenville rape trial coverage

CNN is drawing criticism for its coverage of the outcome of the Steubenville rape trial, which some considered broadly sympathetic to the convicted rapists and inattentive to the victim.

Steubenville High School students Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond were convicted Sunday of raping an intoxicated fellow student. Prosecutors’ case was supported by thousands of text messages, video evidence and a photo of the two boys holding the unconscious victim by her arms and legs.

But two segments on CNN focused exclusively on the attackers and the burden that the outcome of the trial would impose on their lives.

“State of the Union” host Candy Crowley continuously prompted her correspondents to express sympathy for Mays and Richmond, invoking the fact that their high school football careers were now over.

“It was incredibly difficult … to watch what happened as these two young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students, literally watched as they believe their lives fell apart,” said CNN reporter Poppy Harlow.

Harlow brought attention to Mays and Richmond’s apologetic statements, and even highlighted a personal moment between Richmond and his father, who said “I love you” to him for the first time, according to Harlow.

In a subsequent interview with senior legal correspondent Paul Callan, Crowley repeatedly invoked Mays and Richmond’s ages and asked Callan to comment on the emotional toll that the verdict would take on the rapists and their families.

After repeatedly airing the boys’ apologies, as well statements from their families, CNN also covered the testimony by the victim’s mother. In another CNN segment on the trial, news anchor Fredericka Whitfield noted that “family members tried their hardest to plead for some forgiveness from the victim’s family, as well as from the judge.”

The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple criticized CNN for implying that the boys did not deserve their fate. He took Callan to task for noting that they would now be labeled sex offenders.

“‘Label,’ huh?,” wrote Wemple. “These two young men are ‘labeled’ sex offenders because they are sex offenders. To choose the term ‘label’ suggests that perhaps the two don’t deserve such categorization, that the fate that has befallen them is somehow undeserved.”

Mays will serve two years in a juvenile detention facility. Richmond will serve one.

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