I routinely call out injustices that are perpetrated by the news media. As a journalist, I take media malpractice seriously. Because, as journalists, the only real tool we have is our credibility. If we lose that, we have nothing. With public trust in traditional news media at an all-time low, and with President Donald Trump openly waging war against the media on a daily basis, it’s more important now than ever that journalists do their jobs the right way, and get back to being question-askers and investigators rather than crusaders.
I have never been more disgusted by a news story than by the accounts of what happened at the Lincoln Memorial Friday afternoon. Video of a standoff between an American Indian banging a drum, and a white teenager wearing a Make America Great Again hat, went viral. Numerous news outlets — with CNN leading the charge — pounced on the story, portraying the teen and his classmates — students at Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky — as racist. According to CNN and other news outlets too numerous to mention, the Covington boys mocked the older man — identified as Nathan Phillips — as he played his drum and sang.
The narrative was supported by a tightly-clipped video posted by one of the protesters in the Indigenous Peoples’ March, posted to social media.
The video shows a smirking teenager in a MAGA hat standing eyeball to eyeball with the older man. At first glance, it looks disrespectful. And the media wasted no time latching on. After all, it fit the narrative: Donald Trump is a racist, and all of his supporters are racist.
Various news outlets ran statements from people who were a part of the protest, claiming that the Covington teens were chanting things like “Build the Wall” and “Gone in 2020.” The teens, they said, had crowded around Phillips as he beat his drum, and they felt threatened by the students.
But the video evidence didn’t quite fit the script. Although the original video was tightly clipped, containing only three minutes of a much longer ordeal, none of the students on the video can be heard chanting anything about a wall or 2020.
In fact, a second video emerged that showed the student at the center of the controversy — later identified as Nick Sandmann — gesturing to one of his classmates to not engage with an argumentative protester who was accompanying Phillips. That seemed to flip the script on its nose. This kid in the MAGA hat was actually attempting to keep the peace.
Finally, on Sunday, a full video emerged. Ironically, it was shot by a member of the Black Hebrew Israelites, a well-known hate group that had instigated the entire confrontation.
If you want to get straight to the crux of the confrontation, skip to the 1:10 mark. By doing so, you’ll miss an hour of the Black Hebrew Israelites verbally berating the teens, who apparently were guilty of nothing except showing up at the Lincoln Memorial to await their bus.
Contrary to the original media narrative, the complete video shows that the small group of black men relentlessly berated the teens with racial slurs and countless other insults — saying they were going to grow up to be school shooters, among other things. The teens actually showed remarkable poise, engaging in school chants and cheers to drown out the protesters. There are no “Build the Wall” chants, no “Gone in 2020” chants.
Then, as the black men continue to ramp up their belligerence, here comes Phillips, beating on his drum. He told reporters that he sensed the tension and was trying to intervene. That much appears true, though he was either completely mistaken or deliberately mischaracterized how those tensions were playing out. He portrayed the teens as the aggressors, saying, “These young men were beastly and these old black individuals was their prey, and I stood in between them and so they needed their pounds of flesh and they were looking at me for that.”
The video clearly shows that isn’t the case.
As Phillips approached, he and his fellow protestors marched straight into the middle of the students. The claims about the teens “surrounding” the old man are proven completely untrue by the video. And Sandmann is guilty of nothing except standing his ground — perhaps unwise for a teenage student in the midst of a bunch of angry older men, but certainly not a crime or a bigoted, racist action.
In fact, not only did Phillips march right into the throng of students. He actually beats his drum within inches of Sandmann’s face — clearly being provocative!
Clearly, the video shows, the teens were uncertain what to think of Phillips and his drum. As Robby Soave wrote for Reason, “The teens couldn’t quite decide whether Phillips was on their side or not, but tentatively joined in his chanting. It’s not at all clear this was intended as an act of mockery rather than solidarity.”
Meanwhile, it’s been a full 24 hours since the full video emerged, and the false narrative is still being propagated. CNN has begrudgingly admitted that the full video shows another side to the story, but has refused to backtrack on its original reporting, giving voice to claims that are clearly proven untrue by the video.
New York Magazine published a story late yesterday from one of the protesters with Phillips, in which she reiterates the ridiculous claims that the students trapped the protesters and chanted things like “Build the Wall” — nonsense that is clearly refuted by the video.
On Twitter, best-selling author and TV producer Reza Aslan promotes violence against the minors — “Have you ever seen a more punchable face?” he asks of a picture of Sandmann. He certainly didn’t back down from his rhetoric as the new video evidence emerged. In fact, he doubled down on his insistence that the Covington teens had behaved badly.
The behavior of Aslan — who has a past affiliation with CNN and ABC — reflects the attitudes of the mainstream media. Rather than admit “we were wrong,” there is a begrudging — almost obligatory — mention of the new narrative being crafted by the longer video, then a continuation of the insinuation that the so-called “MAGA teens” were somehow in the wrong.
Why? Because they were white, and because they were wearing pro-Trump apparel.
This is the disgusting age in which we live, and the American news media has proven itself completely unreliable and irresponsible.