Convicted rapists Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond burst into self-pitying tears in an Ohio courtroom on Sunday after they were sentenced to jail time for sexually assaulting a teenage girl.
They were joined in their sobs by CNN hosts Poppy Harlow and Candy Crowley. Poppy Harlow bemoaned:
“two young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students,” who “literally watched as they believed their lives fell apart.”
Candy Crowley's heart also bled as she asked:
"What's the lasting effect, though, on two young men being found guilty in juvenile court of-- rape, essentially?"
Let's take a step back and look at how Poppy and Candy framed the situation for a moment. The two rapists are presented as helpless and passive. They were "found guilty" and could only watch as "their lives fell apart."
A viewer unfamiliar with the trial might assume that Mays and Richmond were innocent scapegoats, hounded and railroaded into jail time by a mob.
And observe how Candy downgrades the charge-- suddenly it's "rape, essentially." Not "real" rape, not "rape-rape," but some kind of abstract, theoretical concept: how many assaulted, passed-out girls can fit on the head of a pin?
Language counts, ladies. You make your living in journalism; you know that.
But the issue is bigger than CNN's warped tea-and-sympathy coverage. The problem is not that Candy and Poppy's reactions were over the top; the problem is that they were run-of-the-mill.
Does anybody remember Tony Farmer?
Tony Farmer was a 6'7" basketball star at Cleveland's Garfield Heights High School. Sportscasters called him a "blue chip recruit" destined for Division I stardom.
He was also a violent, jealous lover.
In August 2012, Farmer was sentenced to 3 years in prison for kidnapping and felonious assault. Farmer's girlfriend had broken up with him in April 2012. After she rejected him, he confronted her in the lobby of her apartment building and forced her into the parking lot, where he screamed at her and dragged her by the hair. When she escaped back into the lobby he pursued her, pinned her in the corner and kicked her in the head 4 times.
The entire assault was captured by security cameras. The evidence was so overwhelming that Farmer pled guilty.
Like Mays and Richmond, Farmer did not expect to go to jail. Like them, he was a local sports hero. He was being courted by some of the most prestigious basketball programs in the United States.
His mother told the judge Farmer was a good kid who had "made a bad decision." (Gee, my li'l sweetums dragged a woman by the hair and kicked her in the head 4 times- those darn kids!)
As in the Steubenville case, the team coach attempted to intervene, calling Farmer "a good kid."
Farmer himself played what must have seemed like a trump card, telling Judge Pamela Barker "I'm really not a bad kid," and explaining that he had to complete his senior year at Garfield in order to claim a basketball scholarship.
When the sentence was announced, Farmer, like Mays and Richmond, started bawling. He then collapsed on the floor.
Later, during an interview, Judge Barker said what Candy Crowley, Poppy Harlow and many other people need to hear:
"There's nothing in the sentencing guideline that talks about him being a basketball star and being able to go forward when obviously I think she's been very traumatized by this whole situation."
When asked about the consequences to Farmer's future, Judge Barker said, "The opportunities that were lost, I would just say that he lost them."
Is our national obsession with school sports creating an uber-entitlted, conscience-free class of predators?