- The media smelled blood when a video seemingly showed a group of teenage boys bullying an older Native American protester.
- Newer videos showed that the protester had actually approached the students, who were also receiving slurs shouted by a group of radical activists.
- The media’s misleading reports happened at a time when the students were facing death threats.
Just mere days after BuzzFeed News dropped its hotly disputed report accusing President Donald Trump of obstruction of justice, the media decided to pick a new target: a group of teenage Catholic high school boys.
On Friday, a group of male students from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky found themselves in the middle of a media firestorm after an initial video gave the impression that they had mobbed a Native American protester. Media figures, still reeling from the wave of criticism following the BuzzFeed News fiasco, smelled blood. Sure, the initial video didn’t show the students assaulting anyone, but that didn’t stop reporters, commentators and Hollywood celebrities from focusing on the smirk of a student in the video, which somehow triggered painful memories of lonely prom nights and failed junior varsity sport tryouts.
Of course, newer videos showed that the students were completely innocent. They were first taunted by a group of radical activists and the Native American protester approached them.
Even with this new information, CNN decided to report the story with the following headline:
Video shows a crowd of teenagers wearing ‘Make America Great Again’ hats taunting a Native American elder after Friday’s Indigenous Peoples March at the Lincoln Memorial https://t.co/ontMwCAROJ pic.twitter.com/UYkt41mPu6
— CNN (@CNN) January 20, 2019
Facts first, of course.
BuzzFeed News Reporter, Anne Helen Petersen, made her colleagues proud by smearing one of the kids in the video and implied he had a future in sexually assaulting women. Petersen even acknowledged that other videos showed a completely different story, but that didn’t stop her diatribe about why a teenage boy’s face “caused a visceral reaction.”
One theme of the conversations over the past 24 hours = how deeply familiar this look is. It's the look of white patriarchy, of course, but that familiarity — that banality — is part of what prompts the visceral reaction. This isn't spectacular. It's life in America. pic.twitter.com/TmziDwAjYA
— Anne Helen Petersen (@annehelen) January 21, 2019
Three Washington Post reporters, as National Review’s Michael Brendan Dougherty neatly explained, framed their story on how “a throng of young, mostly white teenage boys, several wearing “Make America Great Again” caps,” surrounded the Native American protestor Nathan Phillips and reported that he “felt threatened.”
Even The New York Times seemingly contradicted itself halfway through its own report:
NYTimes own walk back on the viral video of the Catholic school boys still allows Phillips to bald-faced lie about what he was doing, despite clear video evidence. https://t.co/Y0WcdrQydK pic.twitter.com/0VO1ss3IcM
— Geoffrey Ingersoll (@GPIngersoll) January 21, 2019
The Atlantic’s James Fallows, just hours after the first video was released, wrote a bizarre column comparing the young boys to pro-segregation activists. Fallows seemed to even recognize that other footage might give a more complete picture of the incident, but he chose to brush this off as just “whatever happened.”
Even by Monday morning, MSNBC was still tweeting out clips from shows expressing sympathy for Fallows. One women, who purports to have been there, said she “witnessed something that was very aggressive and something that was very frightening.”
Tara Houska, tribal rights attorney, on video from Indigenous Peoples March:
“I was there, and I witnessed something that was very aggressive and something that was very frightening.” pic.twitter.com/BW8wvZCAGs
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) January 21, 2019
Other reporters, like The New York Times’ Jonathan Capehart, stood in solidarity with Phillips, while others like esteemed tech journalists Kara Swisher said this is exactly why Americans needed that insipid Gillette ad.
And to all you aggrieved folks who thought this Gillette ad was too much bad-men-shaming, after we just saw it come to life with those awful kids and their fetid smirking harassing that elderly man on the Mall: Go fuck yourselves. https://t.co/ab7zqIuWbL
— Kara Swisher (@karaswisher) January 19, 2019
In fairness, a number of individuals apologized and shared the newer videos demonstrating the students’ innocence (which you can find in this piece by The Daily Caller’s Scott Morefield).
Despite these efforts, it’s important to keep in mind that the media’s efforts to tarnish the reputations of these innocent kids was being done while other social media users were encouraging violence and sending death threats.
Honest question. Have you ever seen a more punchable face than this kid’s? pic.twitter.com/jolQ7BZQPD
— Reza Aslan (@rezaaslan) January 20, 2019
One would think that following the fallout from the disputed BuzzFeed report, the media would take a minute before trying to ruin any more innocent lives, particularly when we’re talking about kids. Yet this whole episode makes one thing clear: Journalists aren’t willing to learn a thing.
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