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Steubenville rape trial: why media came under fire – and what is at stake

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Reporter Poppy Harlow said, it was “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 believe their life fell apart.”

The discussion continued along these lines, including legal analysis of the permanent requirement to register as sex offenders.  There were no comments from the victim or from rape advocacy groups.

Within a day at least three online petitions reacting to CNN’s coverage sprang up, calling it “awful” and calling for redress. By Tuesday the petitions had gathered some 200,000 signatures. The verdict that the judge handed down was justice – not a "tragedy," one petition reads, adding, “the tragedy was the rape. Please apologize and make this right.”

CNN executives have spoken anonymously to trade outlet The Wrap, defending Ms. Harlow, but have not officially responded to the petitions. CNN also has not answered Monitor requests for comment. But, say media watchers, there is a cautionary tale for all broadcast media in this moment.

“It used to be that if you made mistakes, you had consequences for them. People lost their jobs, and faith was somewhat restored, ” says former ABC and CBS newsman John Goodman, now a public relations professional in New York. But now, he says, the pressures on commercial media are driving down traditional journalistic standards to the point where mistakes are made and nothing happens. “We all just move on.”

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