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Monday, March 18, 2013

Crime And Punishment, Steubenville And CNN

Grievous coverage?

[Update 2013/03/19: At the bottom, after the fold, a devastating Onion Sports News Network satire that eerily tracks the CNN report that is being criticized. Yes, consider it an argument against much of what I've written here. Thanks,]

The video of CNN's coverage of the Steubenville juvenile rape verdicts, featuring Candy Crowley and Poppy Harlow (and legal analyst Paul Callan) is going viral as I write this. Accompanying most links to this video there is a great deal of outrage being expressed over the sympathy that is clearly being expressed by reporter/pundits.

There is, for example, the Upworthy post ALL KINDS OF WRONG: CNN Pays Touching Tribute To The Rapists Who Attacked A 16-Year-Old Girl, and a email circling to urge us to sign this petition urging CNN to apologize.

I'm going to confess to a bit of moral cowardice on this one.

The crime of rape evokes in me a particular form of outrage. Like most people, I imagine. While I'm intellectually and constitutionally averse to violent reactions, for example, armchair-fantasies about encountering this kind of crime pretty consistently include one lethal action or other on my part. Such easy machismo is to be taken with a grain of salt, of course, but there it is.

So, observation one is that rape is heinous and, while I could not stomach viewing the infamous video that was produced by the Steubenville rapists, the references and discussion surrounding it certainly made me feel like meting out some rough justice on these perpetrators of brutality.

Observation two is that I, along with many, many leftists or progressives or what-have-you, have an enormous amount of sympathy for what the American brand of "justice" does to people's lives. Just yesterday Chris Hedges posted a moving essay, The Shame of America’s Gulag which, as if I needed it, reminded me of the sad state of our penal system.

Besides the deplorable way in which we "care" for those we incarcerate, there is a very real problem with stigma for those who have "paid their price," to use an unfortunate idiom. Many of us who have humanistic leanings find the requirements to continually inform the world (potential employers, for example) of their past transgressions problematic. Sex offender registration is an extreme form of this problem.

I'll concede that there are some very good, victim- and potential victim-centric, reasons for these policies. You don't want to hire an embezzler in your bank, and good god who wants a (most probably) unrepentant pedophile setting up business across the street from an elementary school? But we liberals are used to the hard questions, and one of them is, quite simply, how exactly does a sincere ex-offender re-integrate into society? These are some serious hurdles, to understate the matter, that are thrown up in front of them. Why not just execute the poor bastards and be done with it? is what one is moved to ask. Instead we hobble them, throw them back out into the world, and count the minutes before they are forced to re-offend, and...

...well, you know the drill.

And so, back to Steubenville and CNN. While I think that, on balance, those who are aggrieved by the CNN segment have a pretty good point, on the whole I cannot be moved to join them in their denouncement. I think it is perfectly normal and healthy for adults to be upset while bearing witness to what we all know, or should know, is the start of the broken lives of sixteen-year-old boys. Notwithstanding that their lives were arguably broken the night of they committed the crime, and broke the life of a young girl.

And notwithstanding that one of the defendents' reactions upon hearing the verdict was a self-interested lament that no one would "want" him after this. Which really enraged me, the little shit.

It is spurious and un-serious to suspend concern with the plight of those caught up in our criminal justice system when one's personal values have been savaged - which is what happened here. The left maintains a deep sympathy for feminist issues and against the brutality of rape, and I understand the cognitive dissonance that occurs when faced with heinous violence coming from both the offenders against their victims, and that State against theirs.

Without getting into it too deeply, there is a distinction to be made between what an aggrieved individual may do when encountering a crime like this (I might kill the fuckers), and what we charter ourselves collectively, as the State, to do (when space has been introduced between the crime and the punishment.)

Let me be clear - I have little-to-no sympathy for these little perps. Or, I should say, I had no sympathy, until I observed the full weight of the law dropped upon their heads. Which is, I suspect, what drove Crowley & Co.

Laugh until you cry


  1. Petro,
    In truth, your column is the most I have read or have thought about this case. I think that your ideas about ‘broke’ (stop saying that!), and broken lives on the night they committed the crime is the crux of the issue. I think this rape, as in a lot of tragic events, had a beginning some time long before the incident.

    I could not finish the Athlete Overcomes Rape clip - that is weird.

    Have a good day.

  2. Thanks, Suzanne. Someone elsewhere pointed out that Harlow's reaction to the trial would have been better received if Crowley hadn't jumped on her bandwagon and simply balanced the report by re-focusing on the victim. I wish I had made that observation.

    Sorry that "The Onion" clip wasn't your cup of tea - I was brought up on "National Lampoon" and have a soft spot for dark humor. Funny just isn't funny enough without a little righteous anger. :)

  3. Michael,
    Oh, I get it, "The Onion" clip was satire. Now I feel a bit silly, I completely missed the point. I'm tired, please forgive.

  4. That's awesome! I love it when they catch you off-guard like that. :)

    I always try to pretend I don't know it's satire - to get the full effect - but it's kind of hard to do that, obviously...


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