Two high school football players were convicted and found guilty in an Ohio rape case involving a 16-year-old girl. The two teenagers stood before the victim’s family apologizing for their actions—their emotional reactions in court becoming the center of the story.
When various news sites and networks reported on the case they took an unexpected angle on the event. More specifically, CNN took an angle on the story that seemed unconventional. The reporter and anchor of CNN discussed missed opportunities and promising careers now shattered by the events.
But it wasn’t the 16-year-old victim they were talking about, it was the convicted rapists.
As the two discussed the case and the events that took place within the courtroom, emotions seemed to run very high. The reporter on scene described how emotional it was for her to see the two convicted teens hear the guilty verdict. She described the feelings she experienced while she watched as the two boys realized their lives had fallen apart.
The reporter continued on, describing to viewers the scene that played out in court as the guilty verdict was read, explaining that one of the convicted teens collapsed into his attorney’s arms while saying, “My life is over, no one is going to want me now.”
When conveying information regarding news events, journalists and—more so—college journalism students are taught the importance of maintaining objectivity. In the professional world one is expected to maintain a neutral stance regardless of the event, focusing on the importance of the information more than anything else.
It isn’t the news reporter’s job to give viewers their opinion, it is instead their responsibility to relay important newsworthy information without an emotional reaction. A case involving minors can bring with it complications, but the plan of action should remain intact; moreover, upon gaining newsworthy information the reporter should relay the news without including sympathetic notions.
As journalists we learn early on the importance of relaying news in this fashion by understanding professional standards of conduct. Our professors and mentors teach us that expressing emotional connections to certain aspects of a news story can create a biased report.
Some may have reported that this sympathetic coverage may have had something to do with the fact that the news organizations involved didn’t have access to the victim, and obviously so. There are reasons, both legal and moral, why one is not given access to the victim in these cases: She is a rape victim and a minor. It is important for law enforcement to keep her name and information out of the public’s knowledge.
This secrecy is done in order to protect this 16-year-old victim from public prejudice.
Regardless of the fact that access to the victim is completely cut off, the news organizations reporting should still be able to keep sympathetic coverage out of the equation. This emotionally driven news reporting just opens up room for biased coverage. Not having access to the victim, in order to gain more information of the news event, still doesn’t allow for any excuses of sympathetic coverage of the perpetrators.
Watching the multimedia package produced and distributed by CNN invokes a sickening reaction within me. The fact that these two convicted rapists are minors doesn’t even cross my mind, I’m disturbed by the fact that the reporter sympathizes with their “lives being over.”
These two teenagers need to pay for their actions. They need to face punishment. Regardless of their age, they committed a crime and there is no need to sympathize with them. These two teenagers are convicted rapists and there is no excuse for an emotional coverage of their reactions in court to the guilty verdict.
Sympathy may have a place in personal lives. When it comes to news coverage, there is no room for sympathy towards convicted criminals.