The Corner


When the Press Sees Red

Native American Nathan Phillips confronts a student from Covington Catholic High School in Washington, D.C., January 18, 2019. (Kaya Taitano/Social Media/via Reuters)

You’ve probably seen the viral footage of a Native American beating his drum, surrounded by a crowd of students from Covington Catholic high school. One of them, wearing a MAGA hat, is right in front of him, with a smirk on his face. It was an odd moment combining the end of the March for Life, which the students were attending, and a demonstration for Indigenous People’s Day.

The footage went viral, causing the school to promise to investigate and possibly suspend the malefactor students. Social media erupted with attempts to “dox” the students and with full-grown adults encouraging people to assault the student in the video.

Google searches reveal the initial headlines. The New York Times: “Boys in ‘Make America Great Again’ Hats Mob Native Elder.” The Times described the incident as “the latest touchpoint for racial tensions in America.”

Here’s how three Washington Post reporters began their story about the incident.

A Native American man steadily beats his drum at the tail end of Friday’s Indigenous Peoples March while singing a song of unity urging participants to “be strong” against the ravages of colonialism that include police brutality, poor access to health care and the ill effects of climate change on reservations.

Surrounding him are a throng of young, mostly white teenage boys, several wearing “Make America Great Again” caps. One stood about a foot from the drummer’s face wearing a relentless smirk.

Nathan Phillips, a veteran in the indigenous rights movement, was that man in the middle.

In an interview Saturday, Phillips, 64, said he felt threatened by the teens and that they swarmed around him as he and other activists

The condemnation of the students was nearly universal. There was lots of tut-tutting about how the students must have learned this mob-like and threatening behavior from their “role model,” Donald Trump. Some Catholics, who dislike Trump or conservatism, joined in to condemn the students.

And then, predictably, the story began to unravel. Students tried reaching out to the media explaining their confusion about the event. And video began to confirm that in fact it was the Native American who approached the students and got in their faces, as racist and homophobic taunts went out to the students from a nearby group of “Black Hebrews.”

Like so many stories that supposedly conveyed the reality of Trump’s America, that so perfectly displayed white Christian menace, it turned out to be fake. Fake, like the Ohio University student who sent herself anti-gay hate mail; manufactured, like the racist harassment on a bus that Hilary Clinton tweeted about; an attempted frame-up, with liberal credulity made into the co-conspirator, like the vandalism of a Jewish cemetery done by a progressive reporter.

But good enough to share, good enough to cause doxxing, and justify the harassment and assault of children. I’m still chuckling at the New York Times and the Washington Post rushing out misleading and false stories — the latter with three bylines — without doing any original reporting besides a phone call to the Native American Elder, and a survey of reactions on Twitter.

The best — funniest? — response to the unraveling of the MAGA mob narrative came from James Fallows, who had penned an instant reaction comparing the students to the worst racist malefactors of the civil rights era. After conceding in one update that “right-wing” sources were disputing the thrust of the story, and then another update about the “mainly-conservative” narrative, he concludes:

Whatever happened just before or after the three or four minutes most widely circulated on yesterday’s videos, those three or four minutes convey a reality that seems impossible to deny.

Whatever happened!

Whatever happened, it conveyed a reality “that seems impossible to deny.” I can’t imagine accepting a payment for writing that kind of conclusion. Although, writing it serves as some testimony to Fallows’ embarrassment. It “seems” impossible to deny only if you felt an overwhelming compulsion to condemn this kid, his school, and his community, “whatever happened.” The posited menace is real, the events, they don’t matter. Whatever.

I would like to welcome the liberal press to the Reality Based Community, but there are fewer Catholic children who deserve getting spat on in it. So I doubt they’ll show up.


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