The Morning Jolt


Upholding a Narrative Backfires on the Mainstream Media

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

Making the click-through worthwhile: Two hours of video show that the media narrative about Native American Nathan Phillips and the students at Covington Catholic High School was wrong, and that the media enthusiastically rushed to judgment; BuzzFeed tells readers and CNN viewers to trust them, and ignore what the special counsel’s office said; President Trump puts an offer on the table to end the government shutdown, but Nancy Pelosi feels no pressure for a deal.

A quote from Martin Luther King Jr. for the day, and perhaps a lifetime, considering all that goes on around us each day: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

What Really Happened at the Lincoln Memorial at the March For Life

Will wonders never cease? The New York Times writes a follow-up article about the exchange between Native American Nathan Phillips and the students at Covington Catholic High School that acknowledges the preceding day’s coverage was . . . misleading.

A fuller and more complicated picture emerged on Sunday of the videotaped encounter between a Native American man and a throng of high school boys wearing “Make America Great Again” gear outside the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.

Interviews and additional video footage suggest that an explosive convergence of race, religion and ideological beliefs — against a national backdrop of political tension — set the stage for the viral moment. Early video excerpts from the encounter obscured the larger context, inflaming outrage.

Over at Reason, Robby Soave goes through a two-hour video of the event, revealing that the snippets that went viral completely ignored the presence of the Black Hebrew Israelites, a religious sect that often gathers in public places in Washington and offers “preaching” that includes hurling racially incendiary slurs at people passing by. (Most D.C.-area residents right now: “Oh, those guys.”)


Phillips put himself between the teens and the black nationalists, chanting and drumming as he marched straight into the middle of the group of young people. What followed was several minutes of confusion: 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.

Soave notes that the interaction between Phillips and the students captured on the initial footage comes after “an hour of the Black Hebrew Israelites hurling obscenities at the students. They call them crackers, [a slur for gays], and pedophiles.”

At the 1:20 mark (which comes after the Phillips incident) they call one of the few black students the n-word and tell him that his friends are going to murder him and steal his organs. At the 1:25 mark, they complain that “you give [a slur for gays], rights,” which prompted booing from the students. Throughout the video they threaten the kids with violence, and attempt to goad them into attacking first. The students resisted these taunts admirably: They laughed at the hecklers, and they perform a few of their school’s sports cheers.

He would later tell The Detroit Free Press that the teenagers “were in the process of attacking these four black individuals” and he decided to attempt to de-escalate the situation. He seems profoundly mistaken: The video footage taken by the black nationalists shows no evidence the white teenagers had any intention of attacking. Nevertheless, Phillips characterized the kids as “beasts” and the hate-group members as “their prey”.

Could the Covington Catholic High School students have handled it better? Perhaps — at least one student makes a tomahawk chop gesture in there, which is disrespectful to Phillips. We can also ask why the chaperones didn’t move the teens away from the Black Hebrew Israelites. But Phillips approached them, not the other way around, and despite his subsequent claim that he wanted to calm things down, he went up to the teens and made things worse by going nose-to-nose.

He’s simply not being honest in his characterization when he told media afterwards, “a group of Catholic students from Kentucky were observing the Black Israelites talk, and started to get upset at their speeches.”

We can expect better from teenagers, but we must demand better from grown men. Kyle Smith:

I’d say their reaction was if anything more restrained than you would expect from teenagers. I’d advise them to do better next time. I certainly wouldn’t consider expulsion.

Notice that if we didn’t have the full video, most people would still believe the original narrative of malevolent Catholic high-school teenagers taunting a Native American veteran. Some people are so wedded to their worldview of all virtue residing on one side of the aisle that they’ll still choose to believe it, even in the face of contrary video evidence.

Michael Brendan Dougherty:

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.

Ah, like the reporting about hate crimes that picked up in November and December 2016?

History has taught us to be wary of “you won’t believe the offensive message written on this restaurant receipt” stories. The one in New Jersey was a hoax, the one in California was a hoax, and the one in Tennessee is sketchy, with a handwriting expert saying the writing on the receipt doesn’t match the customer’s. The gay slur on the cake from Whole Foods was a hoax.

A Jewish family is not fleeing Lancaster County after a backlash to their complaint about their school’s Christmas play. A drunken man did not threaten to set a Michigan woman’s hijab on fire. The November burning of an African-American church and spray-painting of “Vote Trump” was committed by an African-American parishioner. That Manhattan Muslim teen who claimed she was attacked by three drunks who called her a “terrorist” on the subway while lots of New Yorkers stood and watched? Hoax. (The hoaxer’s sister later went on Facebook and criticized the police for being excessively skeptical: “It became super clear to me these past two weeks that the police’s first instinct is to doubt your story and try to disprove it.”)

Or that racist, Nazi and pro-Trump graffiti spray-painted on Philadelphia homes and cars the morning after the election. The perpetrator was a 58-year-old African-American man.

And as I wrote a few years ago — sheesh, has it really been four years? — the mainstream media’s “narrative journalism” tends to undermine the causes it intends to promote, because eventually enough of the audience realizes the gap between what they’re being told and what they know to be true. Speaking of which . . .

BuzzFeed: We Know What Mueller Said, but Trust Us Anyway

BuzzFeed’s reporters and editors say they stand by their story.

“We’re being told to stand our ground. Our reporting is going to be borne out to be accurate, and we’re 100% behind it,” investigative reporter Anthony Cormier told CNN’s Brian Stelter on “Reliable Sources” Sunday.

Cormier was joined by BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith on “Reliable.”

Anybody else think that Brian Stelter should rename his show? If the central question of the program on a regular basis is going to be, “is this reporting accurate or not?” then the sources being discussed aren’t all that reliable, are they? If institutions of journalism really had mechanisms to deal with reporting that gets it wrong and damages the reputation of the profession . . . you wouldn’t see Dan Rather appearing as a guest on a program called Reliable Sources.

We know that special counsel Robert Mueller and his team are tight-lipped, at least when it comes to on-the-record statements. No doubt they’ve seen a lot of reporting that was not quite right and a lot of speculation that was flat-out nonsense. But something about BuzzFeed’s article was so bad, so wrong, so misleading, that they felt the need to issue the statement, “BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the Special Counsel’s Office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s Congressional testimony are not accurate.”

Ask yourself a simple question: If the story was accurate, or accurate in general and only wrong in minor details, would the special counsel’s office release a statement like this?

Some of us have long enough memories to remember when Ben Smith was the young guy telling the rest of us that John Edwards was quitting his presidential campaign because of Elizabeth’s cancer diagnosis.

Government Shutdown Deal . . . or No Deal?

You know it’s a wild weekend when the president makes an offer with a few concessions to end the government shutdown, and it’s not even the biggest story of the news cycle. James Davis with the Koch network speculates, “If the White House makes the solution for Dreamers permanent, I think people will jump on board. That’s an un-refusable deal. It’s where folks can and should come together.”

I’d like to think that sort of compromise is possible, but I notice Pelosi rejected it immediately, and didn’t make any counter-offer. Once she declared “a wall is an immorality,” it became much harder for Pelosi to tell her party, “I just worked out a deal that gives $5 billion (or whatever) to an immorality.”

Have you seen a lot of Pelosi allies beginning to pressure her to accept the offer or make a counter-offer? I haven’t seen it. Sorry, government workers. Situations like this only get resolved when both sides feel pressure to reach an agreement, and Pelosi’s convinced that the longer this goes on, the more leverage she has.

ADDENDA: Kamala Harris says she’s running for president. If you haven’t already, read and share the 20 things about her you probably didn’t know. The coverage she gets in the coming weeks and months will have a great deal of influence on whether she becomes the next Democratic presidential nominee.

Sigh. Another Super Bowl with the New England Patriots in it. The NFL is in reruns.


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