The media has recently come under severe scrutiny for an absolute failure to responsibly report on the Steubenville, Ohio rape case, which has gripped the nation. This weekend, CNN became the target of sharp criticism for allowing senior anchors, Poppy Harlow and Candy Crowley, to show sympathy for the defendants in this complicated case, claiming that the verdict has destroyed the lives of two young men with such “promising” futures. Not to be outdone, MSNBC, Fox News, and a host of other networks, recklessly broadcast the name of the 16-year old minor who suffered the traumatic sexual assault.
Up to this point, Fox News has not named the convicted minors, yet it allowed the victim's name to air. Conversely, MSNBC and CNN, also guilty of airing the victim's name, released the names of the defendants upon conviction.
This fiasco has left the country questioning how the press should handle the details of sensitive issues. Sexual assault cases differ dramatically from standard criminal cases in that a majority of rape victims feel shame and rarely report the crimes that have been committed against them. A breach in personal privacy, such as the one committed by these news outlets, does nothing to advance the cause of organizations such as the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence (NAESV), which has urged the media to protect the identity of all rape victims, regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity. In the case of Steubenville, the victim was a minor, making the slip even more appalling. The unfortunate truth of the matter is that there is a stigma attached to rape that the victim is somehow responsible for the criminal act. This is never true and by broadcasting the names of current victims, future victims are discouraged from filing charges going forward.
Given the heightened coverage of this story, it was considerably more reckless for the involved news outlets to reveal the identity of the 16-year-old girl. UniteWomen.org has come out in strong opposition to Fox News organization tweeting, “She has been getting death threats … this is completely irresponsible!”
The grassroots organization working toward ending gender inequality is correct in this assessment. Recently, there has been a major collapse in journalistic integrity. In the rush to fill the 24 hours news cycle, careful review of a story and its sources has been cast aside for the opportunity to get the scoop before rival news outlets.
Although it's unlikely that these news outlets maliciously exposed the identity of the Steubenville victim, it is clear that the agencies behaved carelessly and should be held accountable for negligence. I would never advocate for censorship from a governmental organization such as the Federal Communications Commission. However, I am certain that allowing news outlets to broadcast the name of this minor is a mistake far more detrimental to society than a Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction. Unfortunately, it is likely that the greatest consequence that these news giants will feel is a simple lawsuit easily settled outside of a courtroom on behalf of a victim and family who has already endured entirely too much.