How the Media Ruins Lives

The confrontation between Catholic high school students and a Native American war veteran can teach us a lesson about how deceitful the media can be.

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A large group of teenage boys from Covington Catholic High School attended the annual March for Life rally in Washington, D.C. on Friday, January 18. As the event concluded, the boys gathered at the Lincoln Memorial, which was their designated meeting spot after the end of the rally. Earlier in the day, a group partaking in the Indigenous Peoples March had gathered at the same monument.

As the boys were waiting for the rest of their schoolmates to arrive, a Native American man named Nathan Phillips made his way into the middle of the large crowd as he beat a ceremonial drum. At one point, he stood directly in front of one of the high school boys, Nicholas Sandmann, for several minutes. In a video of the encounter, Sandmann can be seen smirking while other students chant loudly in the background. Only a day later, that video was uploaded online.

The video sparked outrage as it went viral across multiple social media platforms and news outlets. Many liberals were quick to call the boys out, scorning them for interrupting the Indigenous Peoples March and threatening Phillips, connecting their “Make America Great Again” apparel to white supremacy, and belittling their alleged screaming of “Build the wall.”

Though the media’s reaction may seem reasonable (impulsive actions often result in undesirable consequences), what actually happened isn’t as straightforward as many had claimed.

By​ Sunday, more videos regarding the entire occurrence had surfaced, showing no evidence of the boys shouting support for any wall. More than that, the videos showed that there was a completely different side to the story.

Just prior to the moment that went viral, a small group of Black Hebrew Israelites can be seen hurling prejudiced and derogatory words toward the teenagers. Many of the boys retorted by yelling and chanting back at the men, and soon after the onset of the incident, Nathan Phillips can be seen gradually approaching the large group of boys as he plays his drum. In an interview with The Washington Post, Phillips stated that his doing so was an attempt to defuse the situation.

Though he had good intentions, Phillips’s goal to break the tension was unclear to most of the boys, especially as he began to make his way toward the middle of the crowd. Additionally, Phillips told the Detroit Free Press that he decided to intervene because “the boys were in the process of attacking [the] four black individuals,” he said. A clear video of the entirety of the event shows no evidence of this.

Moreover, left-wing activists decided to place much of the blame solely on Nicholas Sandmann for simply smirking. Many liberals called his smirk disrespectful and degrading, while others defended Sandmann, stating that it is natural to nervously smile in a way that looks like a smirk when put on the spot in a confusing situation. The situation regarding Sandmann’s facial expressions could have gone either way. However, in an interview with the Today Show, Sandmann stated that he hadn’t wanted to disrespect Phillips and he hadn’t been smirking.

Regardless of the debate over Sandmann’s facial expression, the events that took place can justify neither the death threats that he has been receiving, nor the harassment of other students from his school who didn’t even attend the march. Many social media users have shared Sandmann’s career goals, asking their followers to “ruin his future by making sure he doesn’t go to college.” Some internet users have even gone as far as to reveal Sandmann’s parents’ address and send his family threats throughout the entire week.

Additionally, a vigil for peace led by Native American activists was held outside the school, and it brought at least 20 people together on January 22. School officials stated that Covington Catholic High School was closed that day as a result of the vigil. Activists who appeared at the school held signs that read “God doesn’t teach hate...Why do you?” and “Racism is a learned behavior.”

However, when Sandmann was interviewed on the Today show shortly after the incident, he stated, “We’re a Catholic school. And [racism] is not tolerated. They don’t tolerate racism. And none of my classmates are racist people.” With no evidence of Sandmann or any of his classmates having made any racist remarks, it is concerning why so many activists would call out the students for something they did not do.

Overall, the entire situation—from the event itself to the media’s reaction to it—has proven to be a perfect example of society’s more recent blatant rushes to judgment. Especially with the polarity of the political climate in America today, people are quick to twist part of the story to support their views and make unsupported assumptions. As Julie Irwin Zimmerman put it, “The story is a Rorschach test—tell me how you first reacted, and I can probably tell where you live, who you voted for in 2016, and your general take on a list of other issue.” And if you take away the video and ask why millions of people across the country care so much about a confrontation they didn’t even observe, they would be blank in expression.

The Covington incident is only the most recent instance of a media rush to judgment. Another event that exemplifies this behavior is when many left-wing activists called out the movie “The Great Wall” for whitewashing before its release. Many assumptions were based on the fact that the lead actor was white. The movie was also filmed in China. However, the movie’s main character was not another “white savior,” and most of the directors, producers, and cast were Chinese.

As America continues to live with Trump’s presidency, which has been regarded as a strong divisive force within the country, the Covington incident must be seen as a pivot point into the right direction for contemporary society. It must teach us to be wary of what we are exposed to online—to be more proactive rather than reactive when it comes to waiting for all the facts. If we continue to make assumptions and call people out as quickly as possible, more innocent lives will be at stake, and the country will only diverge further.