CNN’s Coverage of Steubenville Rape Case Mimics Onion Parody

by Travis Gertz

See this clever and scathing Onion parody? It seems like typical absurd and over the top Onion material. Unfortunately it’s pretty dead on… at least in the case of CNNs coverage of the Steubenville rape case. This Gawker article just came out just a few minutes ago, exposing the angle CNN news anchors took to discuss the rape trial: aka they turned it into a case where the accusers endure a tragedy that had terrible consequences. Sorry, what?

It’s simple. Don’t rape, and you won’t be convicted and jailed. The only tragedy here is that we live in a society where media sensationalism and rape culture deifies rapists.

In case you’re not familiar with the case, here are some details:

Steubenville Scandal Timeline

  • A 16-year-old girl goes to a party with some football players and is drinking, August 2012.
  • She passes out and doesn’t remember anything that happened; the last thing she remembers is holding the accused’s hand on the way to another party.
  • Photos and video of her being digitally penetrated, carried by hands and feet, and urinated on are posted and tweeted and shared all over the internet.
  • Other tweets talking about a rape and anal penetration are posted by the accused, likely in reference to the victim.
  • The community is divided and coaches, investigators, parents, and students polarize on the issue.
  • Anonymous and KnightSec hacker groups get involved in trying to expose evidence.
  • Anonymous reposts a video showing the accused drunkenly joking about a ‘dead girl’ and a ‘wang in the butthole’ the night of the party.
  • Two juveniles on the high school football team, Trent Mays and Mal’ik Richmond, are accused and charged with her rape. Mays is also charged for taking naked photos of an underaged female.

Pay attention to the way some of the headlines out there use phrases like “alleged victim” and “too drunk to remember” and “lying a lot” and “had engaged in group sex before”—it’s fairly typical in our rape culture to discredit and demoralize the victims of rape while we focus on the ‘ruined lives’ of the accusers. Check out Jailbreak the Patriarchy, an app by Danielle Sucher that reverses the pronouns for male and female to let you see how media regularly uses language to discredit women in the media. There is always a media spin; this spin just happens to reinforce rape culture and athletic exceptionalism in North America.