Last week, while the nation was focused on the healthcare debate, a 14-year-old girl was brutally raped in a bathroom stall at her high school in Rockville, Maryland. The two alleged rapists, ages 18 and 17, freshmen at Rockville High School, are undocumented immigrants. Their immigration status has thrust the case into the midst of a heated national debate about immigration policy and reform.
It is noteworthy that this case went virtually unreported by major networks like CNN and MSNBC. Admittedly, networks cannot report on each of the hundreds to thousands of headlines that break daily. However, that networks naturally exercise some level of discretion in selecting those stories that will be reported on opens up the opportunity for bias to persist. Indeed, you would be hard-pressed to find someone unwilling to admit that networks like CNN and Fox News rarely offer balanced, bipartisan reports. Anyone who does not believe major networks are imposing their own political views through their reports is uninformed - yet so are those who understand the role partisanship plays in shaping news coverage. The bias that pervades networks' presentation of issues also directly influences the headlines they choose to report, in turn shaping viewers' knowledge and perceptions of relevant national issues.
The Rockville rape case is, unfortunately, yet another example of the bias that plagues media outlets. Conservative networks like Fox News have spun the case to further their support for President Trump’s immigration policies and to criticize other networks for the lack of “outrage” at the heinous crime. Meanwhile, major liberal networks have largely ignored the case. Even the New York Times called out networks by name – CNN and MSNBC, specifically – for failing to cover the Maryland rape case.
The Times article, in a moment of atypical agreement with Fox News, noted that the case went “virtually uncovered on most networks.” This lack of coverage arguably stemmed from a desire to minimize the potential effects of portraying undocumented immigrants in such a negative light. Certainly it was not the nature of the crime – a brutal act of sexual assault – that dissuaded liberal media outlets from reporting the case, considering the amount of outrage that erupted over the Brock Turner case last summer. The Maryland rape case is no less concerning than the atrocity that Turner committed less than one year ago. The only significant difference between the two cases is the immigration status of the alleged attackers. The case’s implication on the immigration debate, then, is the only possible explanation for liberal networks’ unwillingness to report the story.
Both conservative and liberal networks have treated this case according to its implications on their political agenda – whether that means spinning it in their favor or ignoring it completely. CNN did eventually report the story a few days after it broke. The CNN report opened with comments from the suspects’ defense attorney, who denied that nothing had occurred in the high school bathroom that wasn’t “pre-planned, consensual, and non-forcible.” Princeton, a university that claims to be committed to preventing on-campus sexual assault and offering support and protection for victims, should be especially disgusted with the nature of news networks’ responses (and lack thereof) to this case.
Despite individual networks’ motivations for reporting or failing to report on the issue, the fact remains that a 14-year-old girl was raped in a bathroom stall, at her high school – a place that arguably should be the safest place in a town. To ignore this reprehensible crime by not reporting on it is to value one’s position in the immigration debate over the deplorable actions that have devastated a young girl. Moreover, for CNN’s sole report of the case to open with statements that call into question the validity of the accusation is antithetical to the Princeton community’s professed values of respecting and reporting (as opposed to suspecting and doubting) victims’ claims about sexual assault.
It is unconscionable that some of the largest media outlets ignored this issue. Fox News is correct – we should be outraged. We should be outraged that a rape case – a rape case concerning a 14-year-old victim in her high school – has been trivialized by the mainstream media. We should be outraged that the CNN report poked holes in the allegation before it condemned it. We should be outraged by the inconsistency in liberal media’s reporting on cases of sexual assault and the hypocrisy it reveals. We should be outraged. SHARE peers should be outraged. Anyone who has been the victim of sexual assault should be outraged. Americans should be outraged.
News networks exist to inform the public, and Americans need to know that crimes like the Maryland rape case occur. Americans need to know as much as possible about the state of our country, and that is critical to the preservation of democracy. Networks like CNN and MSNBC squelching nationally relevant stories because they don’t want to address the political implications is not only harmful to the American people, but is also harmful to democracy. For a democracy to be successful, its people must be informed. The lack of coverage in the Maryland case is un-American, un-democratic, and, frankly, un-Princetonian. Princetonians should be outraged.
Jacquelyn Thorbjornson is a sophomore from South Thomaston, Maine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.