Michael Nodianos in the now-infamous Aug. 12 video
“Michael didn’t know the Jane Doe in this case. . . . He left the party around midnight on Saturday, went to McDonald’s and then to a friend’s house. She was leaving just a few moments after he arrived at the second house. He saw her leave with two guys. . . . There were three witnesses to the alleged rape at a third house and two of them came back to the house where Michael made the 12-minute video at around 2 a.m. or 2:30 a.m. People at the other house came back and talked about what happened. The kid shooting the video of Michael was not a witness to the alleged rape. The video was made at a friend’s house and not at the house where the alleged incident occurred.”
— Dennis McNamara, attorney for Michael Nodianos
“An Ohio State University freshman shown in a video joking about a teenage girl allegedly raped by two high school football players will not be returning to school for the spring semester, his attorney says. . . .
“[S]omeone has hacked into his client’s email and social media accounts and the email accounts of his family members. . . .
“McNamara said people [had] attempted to find Nodianos’ class schedule and even came to his dormitory looking for him.”
— CBS News
How did a sexual assault case involving three 16-year-olds — a girl and her two accused attackers — turn into a digital lynch-mob that has forced Michael Nodianos to drop out of college and defamed the entire town of Steubenville, Ohio? Lee Stranahan has been examining those questions, and a disturbing “story behind the story” is now beginning to emerge, which the national media seem reluctant to address.
Stranahan’s item headlined “Steubenville Rape Case: Everything You Know Is Wrong” identifies misinformation that has circulated about the case, including the unsubstantiated claim that there is (or was) a cover-up which bloggers and Anonymous hackers exposed.
Let’s start with the notorious 12-minute video in which Nodianos, an academic scholarship student who graduated from Steubenville in June, jokes about the alleged victim in the case. As Stranahan has pointed out (“Steubenville Probable Cause Transcript: The Infamous Video“) this video has been both the subject and source of much mythology about the case. Some believe that the video was recorded at the scene of the alleged rape, that Nodianos was a witness to (or participant in) the alleged rape and that nobody knew about the video until it was posted online by Anonymous — all of which is wrong, wrong, wrong:
- The video was recorded in the basement of a home where, as Nadianos’s attorney explained, the girl had left about two hours before the video was recorded.
- The alleged sexual assault(s) occurred in a car en route to another party, and also at that party at another home.
- Detectives were aware of the video, as court transcripts make clear, by Aug. 14 or 15 — just two or three days after the alleged attack.
Keep in mind Stranahan’s caveat about his reporting: “This is not defending the suspects or attacking the accuser.”
Why did Nodianos become such an object of hate? Well, he made cruel jokes on the video about how drunk the girl was. He had seen her briefly — before she left for the third party she attended that night — in a state of extreme intoxication. The New York Times, Dec. 17:
At the parties, the girl had so much to drink that she was unable to recall much from that night, and nothing past midnight, the police said. The girl began drinking early on, according to an account that the police pieced together from witnesses, including two of the three Steubenville High athletes who testified in court in October. By 10 or 10:30 that night, it was clear that the dark-haired teenager was drunk because she was stumbling and slurring her words, witnesses testified.
Some people at the party taunted her, chanted and cheered as a Steubenville High baseball player dared bystanders to urinate on her, one witness testified.
About two hours later, the girl left the party with several Big Red football players, including Mays and Richmond, witnesses said. They stayed only briefly at a second party before leaving for their third party of the night. Two witnesses testified that the girl needed help walking. One testified that she was carried out of the house by Mays and Richmond while she was “sleeping.”
Nodianos joked that the girl was so drunk she was “dead” and, at one point in the video, suggests that anyone who had sex with the girl in that condition was guilty of “necrophilia.” But it must be emphasized that Nodianos was neither a participant in nor a witness to the alleged assault. As cruel and tasteless as his jokes were, he was not guilty of a crime, nor did he have any first-hand knowledge of a crime.
What has happened in the past three weeks — since Anonymous “released what its members called a ‘partial dox,’” as Michelle Dean of the New Yorker reported — is that a witch-hunt mentality of collective guilt has developed around the case. Alexander Abad-Santos of the Atlantic:
The hackers . . . seem to believe that there are more people involved, that there are more victims, that the accused are getting special treatment because they are football players, and that there’s a bigger group of boys involved, which Anonymous has dubbed the “Rape Crew.”
These unsubstantiated claims about a “Rape Crew,” which allegedly involves many more people than the two Steubenville High School students who will face trial next month, are wildly irresponsible. As the Steubenville police chief told the New York Times in December:
“Everybody on those Web sites kept saying stuff that wasn’t true and saying, ‘Why wasn’t this person arrested? Why aren’t the police doing anything about it?’ ” he said. “Everybody wanted to incriminate more of the football players . . .”
“All of this information on social media that has come from this Anonymous Internet hacking group has been bogus, fraudulent, slanderous, libelous. They have committed at least nine felonies, according to one Ohio prosecutor. . . . They are frauds. Almost everything they have said has been false. They have ginned up an enormous amount of false media coverage and a false narrative has been created to destroy a town and there are many innocent victims here.”
Lee Stranahan continues reporting on the story:
- Steubenville Transcripts : When Were The Phones Seized?
- Steubenville Transcript : Standard Of Proof For Probable Cause
- LocalLeaks Corrected: The “Rape Crew”
- LocalLeaks Corrected: Mark Cole
- LocalLeaks Corrected: Charlie Keegan
- Hey Conservatives: Who’s Talking About Steubenville?
It seems that we may be witnessing a typical case of media malpractice, in which a crew of irresponsible bloggers and “hacktivists” are ginning up false accusations without regard for truth, and without concern for the harm done to innocent citizens of Steubenville.
UPDATE: Lee Stranahan has posted excerpts of the testimony at the October hearing, to clarify when, where and by whom the girl was allegedly assaulted. Claims that the victim was “dragged [by the suspects] to three separate parties during the course of the night as their personal rape toy” (The Nation) or “gang raped and dragged from party to party” (Salon) are simply not substantiated by the testimony.
No one “dragged” her to the first party (she attended with girlfriends). She was not “dragged” from that party (she voluntarily left with Trent Mays and others), and there wasn’t really much of a “party” at the second home they visited, where they stayed only about 20 minutes, most of which time the girl was vomiting. The teenagers were asked to leave that home and the girl had to be carried out because she was passed out. According to testimony, it was only then — en route to the third party of the night, and at that party — that the girl was allegedly assaulted. And witnesses said the “gang rape” involved only the two 16-year-old boys who have been charged in the case.
There is a vast difference between (a) the specific crimes alleged in the testimony, and (b) the misleading impression created by certain media reports that the girl was the victim of repeated gang rapes.