CNN’s Shocking Silence in Steubenville Controversy

Erik Bernstein crisis communications, crisis management, Crisis Prevention, crisis public relations, Crisis Response, Erik Bernstein, ethics, Jonathan Bernstein, public relations, reputation management Leave a Comment

News outlet ignores basic crisis management in face of massive protest

The Steubenville rape trial made national news due to the heavy involvement of social media as evidence, but looked ready to recede from the headlines following the guilty verdict that was handed down to the two young perpetrators.

The story is still making waves, however, as a result of comments made by CNN reporter Poppy Harlow as she covered the announcement of the verdict. Asked to describe the emotions inside the courtroom, Harlow 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…”

The comment infuriated many, who felt that Harlow was sympathizing with the now-convicted rapists. A petition on demanding that CNN apologize had drawn tens of thousands of signatures within hours, and at the time of this writing has reached nearly 300,000 supporters.

The right or wrong of the issue is being hashed out across the ‘net, but for the purposes of this blog we’d like to look at CNN’s reaction, or, rather, non-reaction.

Nothing at all??

That’s right, in the face of hundreds of thousands of protestors, CNN has simply said nothing. Reportedly, “CNN insiders” did speak with TheWrap, which shared the following:

CNN had no official comment, except to note privately that viral petitions sometimes have a life of their own and start “feeding on itself” whether or not the issue is valid.

Meanwhile two insiders at CNN exclusively told TheWrap that the controversy had hit reporter Poppy Harlow, covering the events in Steubenville, particularly hard.

“Poppy is taking this extremely personally as a woman,” said one executive. “She’s outraged that someone would think she’d do such a thing” as slant her coverage toward rapists. “It’s gotten so out of control.”

Not exactly eating humble pie, are they?

Frankly, CNN’s apparent lack of understanding regarding crisis management is shocking. The public has every right to hold the media accountable for their words, and by refusing to take a public position it very much appears that the news outlet is backing the snide remarks made by its anonymous “insiders,” which essentially dismiss the public outcry as unimportant.

Guess what CNN? Whether you think the controversy is deserved or not, when you tick off several hundred thousand people it’s time to look back at your actions and take some responsibility.  And to remember that there is no such thing as not commenting – your silence speaks for itself.

The BCM Blogging Team

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