Et tu, San Francisco? Et tu?
SFist's Brock Keeling alerts us to yet another mishandling of the Steubenville verdict by mainstream media. Good job, team! This time, the San Francisco Chronicle news director — yes, the DIRECTOR of the NEWS — Vlae Kershner likened convicted rapist Trent Mays to sitcom rascal Eddie Haskell from Leave it to Beaver.
Fans of classic TV will remember Eddie Haskell from "Leave It To Beaver". Making mischief, getting his friends in trouble, sucking up to their parents as if he were the nicest boy who ever lived.
If the writers had cast Eddie as the bad guy in a crime show instead of a sitcom, he might have resembled Trent Mays. He's one of two teenagers convicted in juvenile court Sunday of digital penetration (which in Ohio constitutes rape) of an intoxicated 16-year-old girl in Steubenville last August.
Perhaps he sat down and was all, "What TV character was most likely to rape? Hmm... Ross? No, just too into Rachel. Dennis the Menace? No, too young. Oh, I've got it!"
Keeling's response is dead-on, and it should be read:
We won't even touch SFGate's bizarre need to mention 'digital penetration' and what constitutes rape. But we will say that Trent Mays and Ma'Lik Richmond are not lovable scamps getting into mischief because boys will be boys. They are rapists. They made the conscious decision to rape a woman. They made a conscious decision to brag about it online. They cried in court, after their guilty verdict was read aloud, because they were sad about the end of their futures. They did not cry with guilt or disgust about raping their victim repeatedly.
When Kershner saw the outrage to his column, he added this update:
Some people seem to have misunderstood my point. Mays presented himself to adults far differently than to his friends. I used a TV character many people would remember to illustrate the insincerity of his text to the victim's father. The string of text messages linked below amply demonstrates how abominably he acted toward the victim, who deserves everyone's support.
However, as Caitlin Donohue at the San Francisco Bay Guardian points out:
Unfortunately, the use of that character as reference is entirely in keeping with the rest of the media's apparent tendency to recast the rapes as youthful indiscretions. What was Eddie Haskell's most egregious crime?
Yes, Haskell is a duplicitous sycophant — but it's not enough to warrant the comparison. The leap is too large, and there was never a very special episode where Haskell raped a girl.
Earlier in her piece, Donahue brilliantly wrote:
That serious problem is not that a bunch of football players in Steubenville, Ohio are sexual predators (they are.) Those boys didn't build a society that is built on treating women like chattel when they're in vulnerable situations. But they are a fucked up iteration of it and no single person should feel bad for them being sentenced to years in jail.
That is it — that is it! If we want to change things, the media has to do our part — and our part means not comparing heinous rapists to lovable rapscallions. It means consistently identifying and calling out a culture that allows sympathy for rapists, and raising our voices against it.
This is a black and white issue. We cannot forgive anyone for not portraying it as such. They raped, they committed a crime, they should and will pay the price. The problem is our culture says it's A-OK for boys to be boys, and doesn't teach that women are people — people who must be afforded the same rights and respect as men. Using the media's power and language to compare these boys to a lovable TV scallywag is downright repugnant.