Every word counts

We are always chasing objectivity, though we may never catch it. Still, we are obligated to keep up the chase. If the public doesn’t trust its news outlets, they have only rumor and hearsay to rely on.

That fairness is even more important when dealing with sensitive issues. Words like “drunken” and “promising” seem innocuous by themselves, but when paired with allegations of sexual assault, they can have an unintended effect.

A rape case involving Steubenville High School football players caused public outrage on local and national levels. And so has the media coverage.

CNN’s immediate reaction to the verdict on Sunday came as a shock to many when the two defendants, — Trent Mays, 17, and Ma’lik Richmond, 16 — were found guilty of rape.

Instead of bestowing upon them the likely title of convicted rapists, CNN’s Poppy Harlow referred to them as “good students” with “promising futures.”

Sympathetically, CNN anchors and reporters lamented over how the two young men’s lives were forever tarnished.

That is accurate information, but it turns the convicted into victims. And the backlash from viewers detracts from an important issue.

Locally, WKBN called the victim “the drunken girl.” The AP Stylebook recommends “drunken” as the adjective of “drunk” when used before nouns: drunken driver, drunken driving.

But Michael Dempsey, a Youngstown native, took to the station’s Facebook page to express disgust, “Do you have proof she was drunk? How was her intoxication relevant to her rape? Drunk does not equal consent!”

As of 7:30 p.m. on Monday, 120 people had liked it.

Dempsey wasn’t protesting a grammatical style. He was complaining about the implications the word “drunken” adds to the context.

What this sort of coverage does, no matter the intent of the reporters, is detract from the story and create a separate controversy.

The whole country is missing an opportunity to sit down their young men and make it clear that a woman’s attire and behavior are not excuses for sexual assault. We should be talking about consent and respect, but instead our conversations revolve around bias and integrity.

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