A caravan of news satellite trucks parked outside the Justice Center in the small town of Steubenville, Ohio Sunday as Judge Thomas Lipp pronounced the verdict in the rape trial of two high school athletes that has become an internationally watched news story. Trent Mays, 17, and Ma’lik Richmond, 16, were found to be adjudicated delinquents. The equivalent in the Ohio juvenile justice system of being found guilty of raping a 16 year old girl after a night of drinking in August, 2012.
The verdict may end the trial but the impact on the residents of Steubenville will be felt for some time to come. In a bizarre story with a cast of characters that includes the New York Times, a fugitive anarchist and Roseanne Barr, massive media malpractice led to the Ohio town being terrorized in real life by elements of the hackivist group Anonymous. After the major mainstream media and left-wing blogosphere got the story completely wrong by spreading wild rumors that the trial revealed to be totally false, the self proclaimed media watchdogs are nowhere to be found.
The Steubenville rape case is a prime example of the mainstream press botching basic facts, violating all principles of fair reporting and getting away with it. The Steubenville story blew up last December with long piece in the New York Times that portrayed Steubenville as a football crazed town where local officials might be covering up a crime. The Times story was quickly followed by the involvement of Anonymous, who hacked into a local website and demanded vigilante justice against not just the suspects but against the entire town, especially anyone and everyone connected with Steubenville’s successful ‘Big Red’ high school football team.
Breitbart News spoke exclusively to Frank Bruzzese, an assistant prosecutor for Jefferson County, Ohio who assisted in the early stage of the investigation. Bruzzese says that when Anonymous became involved in the story in they created an vigilante atmosphere that had dire consequences for both the case and the people of Steubenville.
“The internet lynch mob did damage to their own stated goal of helping the victim by putting her in an international spotlight that only served to humiliate her. Anonymous claimed to want justice but their threats had the opposite effect; by calling for the scalps of eyewitnesses and other completely innocent people, the result was a hampered prosecution where people were afraid to testify and where the judge was forced to grant three witnesses immunity.”
Anonymous promoted a pack of rumors that spread like wildfire on the internet, involving complex conspiracies involving what they termed ‘a brutal gang rape’ in Steubenville. Bruzzese says “For months now, I’ve watched the internet lynch mob spin a tale from nothing. They sold the media a story where an girl was drugged, carried from party to party in the trunk of a car, photographed by dozens of party goers as she was raped at series of parties, urinated on and finally dumped on the front lawn of her parent’s house. The trial showed that none of that was true.”
The actual story, disturbing enough on its own was far less salacious than the Anonymous embellishments. Why did a sexual assault that involved three drunken sixteen-year old in a small Ohio town became major news? The narrative that the media pushed is a mixture of an easy to explain premise: Friday Night Lights with rapists meets cultural Marxism, taking cues from academic radical feminism and just good old Red blooded hatred of the United States. Steubenville became a way to belittle middle-American values like ‘football culture’ and to promote the idea that America, distinct from the rest of the world, foments ‘rape culture.’
Like the initial reporting on the Occupy Wall Street movement, the media covering Steubenville romanticized anti-American anarchists and gave an offshoot of the Anonymous movement called #KnightSec credence, interviews and airtime. The biased and sensationalist press went with the most lurid and liberal-agenda driven narrative imaginable, despite there being no factual basis for many of the often repeated claims in the story.
The Steubenville travesty has not been an obscure story. In fact, in late December and early January the story made headlines internationally and the trial this week is being covered by heavy hitters like CNN, the Associated Press, The Los Angeles Times and was featured on ESPN and 20/20 this past week. Although the Steubenville rape case story has received scant mention on conservative websites, the story has been covered extensively by mainstream media, pop culture shows and top left leaning blogs.
During the initial media maelstrom, the Steubenville rape case was featured on NPR, by Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic, PolicyMic, several stories on The Atlantic Wire, The New Yorker, The Nation, Truth-out, Democratic Underground, DailyKos, Buzzfeed, Gawker, Al Jazeera, Slate, Natasha Lennard writing for Salon, a number of pieces on The Huffington Post, a tweet to 200,000+ followers by Mother Jones, articles on Raw Story, Pam Spaulding at FireDogLake, Chez Pazienza at The Daily Banter, Meagan Carpentier writing for U.K’s The Guardian extensive coverage in U.K.’S the Daily Mail. In the mainstream media, it’s been extensively discussed on CNN, CNN This Morning, Jane Valez Mitchell, Nancy Grace with special guest star Roseanne Barr, Dr. Drew, a number of segments on Anderson Cooper, Sanjay Gupta, a full hour on Dr. Phil, plus segments on ABC’s Good Morning America, NBC’s The Today Show.
The main sources for many of these stories is a site called LocalLeaks run by FBI fugitive and infamous Anonymous hacker Christopher Doyon, who uses the handle Commander X. In this video interview on Democracy Now!, Doyon claimed public credit for the LocalLeaks site. Despite being full of undocumented and bizarre claims, unverified rumors and poorly written falsehoods, most media sources freely linked to the site and helped the the story go viral in early January. For example, CNN put the website’s URL up on the screen repeatedly during video segments on the story essentially giving a site run by a criminal hacker hundreds of thousands of dollars in free advertising and giving credibility to the site.
The result, says Bruzzese, was ‘hundreds of threats’ against Steubenville residents over the past several months. He estimates over fifty law enforcement officers from various agencies were at work in Steubenville this past week providing protection and tracking threats that included firebombing the home of the prosecutor. At one point in January, Steubenville schools were put on lockdown and people wearing Guy Fawkes masks were going door-to-door looking for Big Red’s football coach.
It was a remarkable and frightening example of how Anonymous can have devastating impact beyond the computer screen and in real life. Steubenville was under siege as websites and voicemails were hacked and townspeople faced a wave of protests, threats and harassment. At one point, a demonstration of about a thousand mask-wearing protestors invaded Steubenville, ginned up over the false story spread by Anonymous and the media.
Bruzzese says “Everyone from witnesses to law enforcement to high school kids were subjected to threats in every form you can imagine. We’ve gotten mail from people who said biker gangs were going to come to Steubenville to rape our daughters. We’ve had email threats saying that people should put a gun in their mouth and if they didn’t, then someone would come to finish the job.”
What happened with the Steubenville story raises troubling questions about Anonymous’s involvement in media and the legal system. If the hacktivist collective can insert themselves in a case in a small Ohio town, they may be able to do it anywhere and the media seems more them happy to oblige them, no matter what the consequences are.