On Saturday, the whole country was furious at a bunch of kids from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky. The media, leading the charge, claimed that the teenaged boys accosted and harassed a group of Native Americans in DC. We were told that the boys surrounded and taunted and mocked them while chanting “build the wall.”
Why did the students do this? How did it come up? What was the context? What led to it? What’s the other side of the story? Well, these are all important questions but not questions that many people — especially in the media — bothered to ask in the first 24 hours of the story going viral. All we had was the isolated narrative and a short video clip that was supposed to depict this act of unspeakable bigotry but only actually depicted a bunch of white kids goofing around while a Native American man played his drum. A great many headlines claimed that the video “shows” teens in MAGA hats harassing a Native American man. It didn’t show that. It showed the MAGA hats, yes, but nothing that could be clearly discerned as mocking or harassing.
It was a weird video, and confusing, and the kind of thing that screams “OUT OF CONTEXT.” But few people wondered about the context or waited to find out what it might be. Instead, a massive dog pile formed, and within hours the boys were being villainized, denounced, doxxed, and threatened with expulsion.
Then more footage emerged. An almost two-hour clip apparently shot by a member of a radical cult called the Black Hebrew Israelites paints a very different picture. It shows members of the BHI screaming taunts and insults at the students. The radicals call the kids “crackers” and “incest children” and “future school shooters.” They shout anti-gay slurs. At one point, someone (presumably a member of the group) tells the kids to “go back to Europe.” Another video shows BHI warning a black student from the school that his white classmates will try to “steal [his] organs.” The young men display remarkable poise in the face of this provocation. Rather than responding in kind, they try to drown out the hate with pep rally-style cheers.
Into the midst of this chaos wanders the Native America group, led by a man named Nathan Phillips, an activist who, it turns out, has had run-ins with white students in the past. He walks up to the students and begins beating a drum in their faces. They do not respond with insults or threats or anything else. They do not respond at all. Instead they continue their own chants, trying to keep things positive.
Later, Phillips called the students “beasts,” claimed that they were the aggressors against the black men, and said that he wanted to leave the situation but was prevented from doing so. These are all lies. It seems that Phillips wanted to provoke the students. When he failed, he decided to go with Plan B: defamation. Fortunately for him, the defamation met the welcoming ears of a complicit media. The incident was quickly repackaged, details were left out and rearranged, and suddenly a story of white kids being harassed by two separate groups of adults becomes a story about white kids taunting Native Americans.
All in all, I think this whole saga should teach us a few things that any slightly observant person already knew:
1) Your social media hot take can wait for a day or two.
We all seem to be under the impression that the world will stop rotating on its axis if we don’t immediately offer our two cents on every event, the moment it occurs. Many otherwise intelligent people have made fools of themselves (myself included) because they felt the need to voice an opinion on an issue as soon as it came to their attention. But there really isn’t much good that can come of an opinion dashed off and posted to the internet on the fly. Especially when you’re simply adding to a chorus of people who have already expressed that exact point of view. Even if you’re right, your perspective is redundant and useless. If you’re wrong, you’ve just contributed to mass hysteria. So, why not wait? Everyone can survive without your opinion for a few hours while you let the facts come in. There is no downside to taking your time. There is enormous downside to jumping the gun.
2) White teenaged boys are not evil.
I don’t mean to spike the football here. I’ve spoken too soon on many occasions in the past. But I held my tongue on this one when I first heard about it because I don’t actually think that white teenaged boys generally behave like the villains in a socially conscious cartoon. It’s not impossible that a roving gang of Catholic school boys might surround and harass a group of peaceful Native Americans, but it does seem rather unlikely. When I saw the first out of context video, I figured there had to be more to the story. So, I said nothing and waited for the rest of the facts to surface.
A lot of people had no problem accepting the narrative that was first presented because they really do think — or, more precisely, want to think — that white boys carry on this way routinely. These are mostly the same people who ate up every rumor and accusation against Kavanaugh because they desperately want to believe that privileged white teenagers go around casually gang raping women for sport. These false narratives tell us nothing at all about young white men, but they do tell us something very disturbing about the members of the left-wing pitchfork mob. Namely, that these people hate white men. Hate them. Especially Christian ones. And that’s why some of them, even after finding out the whole story, still justified their reaction on the basis that the sight of a white teenager’s face “causes a visceral reaction.”
3) The media is the enemy of the people.
Trump was right. The news media is the enemy of the people. Certain types of people, anyway. If you happen to be a member of the wrong demographic, the media will eagerly spread lies about you. They will try to destroy your life. They will send the mob to your front door. They will incite threats against your family. They will tear you to pieces. What else can we call them but enemies? This certainly isn’t how friends or allies behave, last I checked.
4) Someone is going to get killed.
On a related note, it’s only a matter of time before a victim of a media-led smear campaign winds up dead. What will the inciters and orchestrators of the outrage mob say then? “We had no idea it would come to this”? Yes, you did. When you put a person’s name and face out there, and you tell the world an outlandishly false story about them, you are lighting a match in a forest full of dry leaves. If somebody finally burns, it’s your fault. I can only hope, when that terrible day comes, that at least a few of the smear merchants will go to jail.
In the meantime, and to hopefully stave off this tragic eventuality, we need some ethical and generous lawyers to come to the defense of the victims, pro bono, and sue the defamers and inciters into oblivion. News outlets that run defamatory and libelous reports about innocent people should face severe financial consequences. Celebrities like Kathy Griffin, who encouraged her fans to retaliate against the high school boys, should be bankrupted by lawsuits. None of this has anything to do with free speech. It’s libel. It’s illegal. And that’s how it should be treated.
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