March 18, 2013

CNN on Sunday aggressively covered the breaking news of the verdict in the Steubenville rape case. Star football players Trent Mays, 17, and Ma’lik Richmond, 16, were found guilty of raping a 16-year-old girl. Propelled by social media and mainstream media, the Steubenville case has long held a high profile.

Defense attorney Walter Madison, right, holds his client, 16-year-old Ma'lik Richmond, second from right, while defense attorney Adam Nemann, left, sits with his client Trent Mays, foreground, 17, as the judge reads the decision in juvenile court in Steubenville, Ohio. (Keith Srakocic/Associated Press)
Defense attorney Walter Madison, right, holds his client, 16-year-old Ma’lik Richmond, second from right, while defense attorney Adam Nemann, left, sits with his client Trent Mays, foreground, 17, as the judge reads the decision. (Keith Srakocic/Associated Press)

The scrutiny that comes with its profile descended on CNN. In repeated segments yesterday, CNN featured reports from reporter Poppy Harlow, who was in Ohio for the verdict. Here’s the transcript of some of the coverage at the 11 a.m. hour:

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: I’m Candy Crowley in Washington. RELIABLE SOURCES is just ahead.

But, first, a breaking story we’re following.

Two star football players in Steubenville, Ohio, have been found guilty of raping a West Virginia teenager. The story has attracted national attention. The judge just ruled a few minutes ago. Listen in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUDGE THOMAS LIPPS, HAMILTON COUNTY FAMILY COURT: In this case, you know, regarding the charges of rape, both defendants Ma’lik Richmond and Trent Mays are committed to the Department of Youth Services for a minimum of one year and a maximum period until you’re 21.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Again, this case was played out in juvenile court, that is why there was a judge, no jury. He decided on the verdict, as well as, you heard there, talking about the sentence.

We want to go now to CNN’s Poppy Harlow. She is in Steubenville, and has been covering this trial.

I cannot imagine having just watched this on the feed coming in. How emotional that must have been sitting in the courtroom.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I’ve never experienced anything like it, Candy. It was incredibly emotional — incredibly 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 believe their life fell apart.

One of — one of the young men, Ma’lik Richmond, when that sentence came down, he collapsed. He collapsed in the arms of his attorney, Walter Madison. He said to me, “My life is over. No one is going to want me now.”

Very serious crime here. Both found guilty of raping this 16- year-old girl at a series of parties back in August, alcohol-fueled parties. Alcohol is a huge part in this.

[...]

I want to bring in Paul Callan, our CNN legal contributor.

You know, Paul, a 16-year-old now just sobbing in court, regardless of what big football players they are, still sound like 16 year olds. The other one, 17. A 16-year-old victim.

The thing is, when you listen to it and you realize that they could stay until they’re 21, they are going to get credit for time served. What’s the lasting effect, though, on two young men being found guilty in juvenile court of rape, essentially?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, Candy, we’ve seen here a courtroom drenched in tears and tragedy and, you know, Poppy’s description, I think, you know, sums it all up. But across America scenes like this happen all the time.

I know as a prosecutor and defense attorney, when that verdict is handed down, usually it’s just the family and families of the defendants and the victims, there’s always that moment of just lives are destroyed. And lives have already been destroyed by the crime. And we got a chance to see that.

But in terms of what happens now, yes, the most severe thing with these young men is being labeled as registered sex offenders. That label is now placed on them by Ohio law and, by the way, the laws in most other states now require such a designation in the face of such a serious crime.

That will haunt them for the rest of their lives. Employers, when looking up their background, will see they’re registered sex offender. When they move into a new neighborhood and somebody goes on the Internet where these things are posted. Neighbors will know they’re a registered sex offender.

It’s really something that will have a lasting impact. Much more of a lasting impact than going to a juvenile facility for one or two years.

CROWLEY: Paul, thanks. I want to bring Poppy back in — because, Poppy, there’s — you know, the 16-year-old victim, her life, never the same, again. And I understand you have been talking to some of the families involved.

HARLOW: Her life never the same again. Absolutely, Candy. The last thing she wanted to do was sit on that stand and testify. She didn’t want to bring these charges. She said it was up to her parents.

But I want to tell our viewers about a statement that her mother just made, just made in the court after the sentencing. Her mother just said that she has pity on the two young boys that did this. She said human compassion is not taught by teachers or coaches. It’s a God-given gift, saying that you displayed a lack of compassion, a lack of moral code, saying that you were your own accuser throughout this for posting about this all over social media. And she said she takes pity on them.

The response from Twitter: Not supportive.

 

 

Gawker has also gotten in on the act, along with Huffington Post. Poynter, too, has a critical take.

The Erik Wemple Blog has asked CNN for a comment on the criticism. Nothing yet.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.