March 19, 2013

Activists from the online group “Anonymous” rally at the Jefferson County Courthouse in Steubenville, Ohio, last December. (Michael D. McElwain/Associated Press)

CNN over the past couple of days has sustained a great deal of criticism over its breaking-news coverage of the verdict in the Steubenville rape case. Candy Crowley, Poppy Harlow and Paul Callan teamed up to lament the plight of the perpetrators and spent comparatively little time doing likewise for the victim.

Correspondent Harlow, reporting from Ohio, helped set the tone when she said: “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.”

Well, someone else was also moved by the whole episode. The lawyer for the rape victim, that is. In an interview last night with CNN’s Piers Morgan, Bob Fitzsimmons referenced Ma’Lik Richmond’s apology for his role in the crime:

It was — it was a very emotionally packed moment that occurred in that courtroom where watching this young boy suffer once he realized what the punishment and what had happened at that point. It was hard to watch anybody suffer, a human being like that, and I think everybody in that courtroom was significantly moved and it was those emotions that moved everybody there.Not that that was right or acceptable or forgiving at that point, but to see the pain that he had caused himself and others, it was. It, myself, brought almost tears to my eyes to see this young boy’s life that he knew that was many parts of it were going to be changed significantly, both boys, at that time. And it was something I know the family was also emotionally moved. The mother was extremely emotionally moved by that.

Change some phrasing and eliminate some babbling, and you see the symmetry: What Harlow reported in her breaking-news coverage is just about the same impression delivered by the lawyer for the victim, someone who’s not prone to belabor sympathy for the perpetrators.

So Harlow issued an accurate report of the emotional atmosphere in the room. Does that excuse CNN’s coverage? Nah, it just contextualizes it. Crowley, Harlow and Callan teamed up to form a sympathy party for the perpetrators, emotional courtroom notwithstanding.

When asked to comment on its coverage, CNN yesterday declined comment. The network did, however, blast out an e-mail promoting this Piers Morgan interview with the victim’s lawyer; it wants you to see this.

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