CNN continues to face criticism for its remarks on Sunday about the teens found guilty of raping a 16-year-old in Steubenville.
In fact, more than a quarter-million people have signed a Change.org petition
demanding the network issue an on-air apology for the remarks.
CNN has said nothing on the record about the outcry. Is that wise or foolhardy?
“The longer this goes on, the more damage CNN’s reputation sustains,” said Hinda Mitchell, vice president at the PR agency CMA. “It’s time [for CNN] to do its mea culpas
and move on. They’ve got to put a stop it.”
Critics have labeled CNN reporter Poppy Harlow and anchor Candy Crowley “rape sympathizers,” because of their comments about Ma'Lik Richmond, 16, and Trent Mays, 17, who were found guilty of raping an intoxicated 16-year-old girl.
On Sunday, Harlow was reporting outside the courthouse in Steubenville, Ohio, where the teens had just been convicted. When Crowley asked Harlow to describe the emotions inside the courtroom at the time the verdict was read, she said:
“I’ve never experienced anything like it. 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 believed their lives fell apart…”
When CNN went back to the studio, Crowley then interviewed a legal expert. During the coverage, a number of people felt the network sympathized with the rapists.
“The sympathetic tone of the reporter and anchor—for more than six minutes on the air—leaves them with little defense,” Mitchell said.
The Change.org petition described the reporting as “nothing short of disgusting.”
“Your coverage of the Steubenville rape trial's verdict Sunday morning was a complete disgrace and a breach of journalistic ethics,” the petition insisted.
Al Tompkins, a senior faculty member for broadcast and online at media-think tank The Poynter Institute, told The Wrap
that CNN should apologize.
CNN has said nothing on the record about the incident. However, a report on The Wrap
, which cited anonymous sources at CNN, said Harlow is “outraged” that anyone would consider her a rape apologist.
“Poppy is taking this extremely personally as a woman,” a CNN executive told The Wrap.
Harlow is an award-winning reporter, who cut her teeth as a business journalist with Forbes
and later at CNNMoney.
During the course of the trial, Harlow reported extensively on the trial, much of it included attention to the 16-year-old victim. On the day of the verdict, Harlow interviewed the victim’s lawyer. After Crowley’s interview with the legal expert, when the network returned to Harlow in Steubenville, they discussed the victim. And on Monday, the girl’s mother gave an exclusive statement to Harlow
Still, critics zeroed in on her remarks about the rapists.
‘Time to act is now’
It’s unclear why CNN has stayed silent, but two public relations professionals interviewed by PR Daily
agree the network should speak up.
“If I worked for CNN corporate communications, I would advise her to issue a statement,” said Peter Himler, principal at the PR firm Flatiron Communications. “I probably would have her publicly acknowledge that she lost sight of the bigger picture and apologize to the victim—clearly what happened to her is worse than what happened to the boys” who were convicted.
Himler, whose clients have worked with Harlow, thinks the statement should come from her, not the network. Hinda Mitchell, on the other hand, said an apology isn’t necessary, but CNN must at least speak out on the matter.
“They have to be accountable for what was aired,” Mitchell said. “I think they have to acknowledge and publicly state that is not what they’re about. Right now they’ve been painted into a corner.”
By saying nothing, the network has allowed its critics to define the message, according to Mitchell. She suggested CNN offer a response on video, because that’s where it began.
“The time to act is now,” Mitchell stressed.
What do you think? Should CNN speak up?