You may remember that on January 28 of last year, a group of boys from the all male Covington Catholic High School in Park, Hills, Kentucky, met on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. to get their buses home after a class trip to attend an anti-abortion rally. (They’re Catholics, Jake!) Some of them were wearing MAGA hats, showing that they supported Trump. On the steps they encountered people from two demonstrating groups, Indigenous Peoples March, and the March for Life. There was also a small group of Black Hebrew Israelites that were, according to Wikipedia, “shouting scripture and taunting passers-by” with racist epithets.
There ensued a confrontation that was characterized by the media as a group of Trumpista, white, entitled males dissing Native Americans and attacking the African-Americans. And that’s the way the encounter was portrayed in the press. Such an encounter was made for the liberal media, who, as you may recall, excoriated the boys. Native people and blacks against rich white boys supporting Trump and criticizing abortion!
Well, I’m not going to excuse the MAGA hats, and I’m pro-choice, but the media stereotype turned out to be exaggerated. What happened was far more complicated, and I’ll just give Wikipedia’s summary:
As the 15- and 16-year-old students began to arrive, the Hebrew Israelites began to taunt them directly, and shouted racially combative insults and slurs at them. As more Covington students arrived, and in response to these taunts, the students performed school spirit sports chants, including their version of a Māori haka. One of the Native Americans who was there for the March said that he felt “the students were mocking the dance.”
According to a January 23 New York Times article, Indigenous Peoples March participants said they had interpreted the “loud chanting” and the size of the group, as well as their MAGA apparel, as “aggressive and disruptive to their demonstration” which had just concluded. Nathan Phillips, a member of the Omaha tribe who had participated in the March, listened to the chants for what he said was about ten minutes. He said he thought that there was a confrontation between the students and the street preachers that he believed had reached a “boiling point”. He later said that he had intended to defuse what he perceived as escalating tension between the students and the preachers. In his early press interviews, Phillips accused the Covington students of hate and racism. According to The Detroit Free Press, Phillips said, “They were in the process of attacking these four black individuals…. 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.” According to CNN’s Sara Sidner, two minutes after one of the students took off his shirt to lead the haka, the “drum beat of Phillips and another Native American drummer [was audible] in the video”. They sang the AIM Song, a Native American intertribal song.
Phillips and a second Native American, both with ceremonial drums, walked towards the students grouped along the stairs. Sidner said that while some of the students danced to Phillips’ drum beat and chanted along with him for a while, they were not “enjoying each other’s company”. Soon, Phillips, was “encircled” by about 30 students, “many of them white and wearing apparel bearing the slogan of President Trump”, red baseball hats with the phrase “Make America Great Again” (MAGA). Phillips continued to beat his ceremonial drum and sing for nearly two minutes as a boy wearing the red MAGA hat chose not to retreat with what some viewed as a smirk on his face. The student later explained that he smiled because he wanted Phillips to know “that I was not going to become angry, intimidated or be provoked into a larger confrontation.” Within minutes of this encounter, an adult chaperone called the students to their buses which had arrived. The students quickly departed the area without further incident.
In the following days more videos came out, and it became clear that the media’s characterization of the incident, particularly from CNN and the Washington Post, was grossly inaccurate. But by then the whole nation was demonizing the boys at Covington Catholic, and they even received death threats. Some of the media corrected themselves, but I didn’t follow what happened later with the outlets who got sued (see below).
One of the students, Nicholas Sandmann (the boy pictured face to face with a drum-beating Native American) sued CNN, as well as the Washington Post and NBC Universal, and won, as there has been a settlement of undisclosed amount with CNN. (The triple suit was for $800 million, with the CNN moiety $245 million). The other two lawsuits are still in progress. The grounds for the suits were that the media “falsely accused Sandmann and the other students of ‘engaging in racist conduct’ without properly investigating the incident.”
Here’s the picture that brought all the opprobrium down on Sandmann. It was interpreted as showing him smirking and dissing a Native American. His claim is that he was trying to be amiable and defuse the tension.
I’ll put up two articles detailing that, one from the New York Times and the other from the National Review. Click on the screenshots to read them.
From the National Review, summarizing the suit:
“CNN brought down the full force of its corporate power, influence, and wealth on Nicholas by falsely attacking, vilifying, and bullying him despite the fact that he was a minor child,” reads the suit, which was filed in March 2019.
. . . The lawsuit filed by Sandmann’s attorneys in the Eastern District of Kentucky claimed that 53 statements included in CNN’s coverage of the incident were defamatory. One such statement, included in a CNN opinion piece, accused the students of acting with “racist disrespect” towards Phillips. Meanwhile, Bakari Sellers, a CNN contributor, publicly mused about assaulting the 16-year-old Sandmann, and HBO host Bill Maher called him a “little prick.”
Now the students may not be people you want to hang around with, but disliking someone’s politics is one thing, but defaming them prematurely is another. The lesson is clear: the liberal media, eager to embrace a story that fit their narrative perfectly, moved too fast, and defamed students like Sandmann prematurely. Had they done a bit more investigating, and reserved judgment before getting more facts, they wouldn’t have had to settle. By settling, CNN has admitted that it was wrong, for it would have fought the case in court otherwise. Some of this, I suspect, has to do with the media’s hatred of Trump and the fact that some of the boys seemed to be Trump supporters.
Sandmann will always carry the stigma of the defamation with him, but maybe he’s crying all the way to the bank.