It’s been over a year since one of the greatest race hoaxes in U.S. history, but has the media learned anything?
Just last January, the media viciously attacked a group of kids from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky, after a misleading video appeared to show the kids, all donning Make America Great Hats, harassing an elderly Native American man at the Lincoln Memorial following the annual March for Life. What followed was an onslaught of false claims, lawsuits, and a stunning lack of remorse from the once-revered Fourth Estate.
A full investigation concluded less than a month after the incident found that the kids said nothing racist or intentionally offensive to Nathan Phillips, the Native American activist behind the allegations. It later turned out that the aggressors appeared to be members of the Black Hebrew Israelites who were heckling the students, and Phillips who could be seen banging a drum in the students’ faces. The child at the center of much of the media and left-wing smears was 16-year-old Covington student Nick Sandmann, who was seen smirking at Phillips in a photo that went viral. (RELATED: The Pro-Life Movement Breaks Through Planned Parenthood’s ‘Deception’ With Recent Successes)
CNN contributors Bakari Sellers and Reza Aslan both fired off tweets fantasizing about Sandmann being punched, while comedian Kathy Griffin called for Sandmaan and the other kids to be doxxed. The reactions of celebrities and the press led to threats against the kids and the school. In fact, the school had to close for a full day last January because of all the threats they were facing. (RELATED: CNN’s John King: Problems At The Border Didn’t Start With Trump)
Sandmann and his family responded by filing lawsuits against several major media entities, including NBC Universal, The Washington Post, and CNN. CNN settled with Sandmaan for an undisclosed amount earlier this month, while his lawsuits against NBC Universal and the Post are still ongoing.
The Covington saga was another black eye for the American press corps, which had already lost the confidence of much of the public, and been subject to relentless criticism from President Donald Trump. The more than 365 days that have followed have served as an opportunity for a media reckoning, but has the press succeeded in regaining the trust of the people they purport to serve?
It’s important to remember that it wasn’t just the establishment media that rushed to condemn these kids, but much of conservative media also experienced a rush to judgment. National Review took down an article from its deputy managing editor, Nicholas Frankovich lambasting the kids, and the magazine’s editor Rich Lowry called the event a reminder “not to make snap judgements.”
Meanwhile, libertarian writer Robby Soave also apologized for rushing to judgement, as did “The View” co-host Meghan McCain and New York Times opinion writer David Brooks. The majority of quick apologies came from center-right media personalities and reporters. Yet, the major media outlets at the center of the controversy mostly defended their coverage, at least initially.
CNN refused to apologize in a statement issued last March, claiming they “reported on a newsworthy event and public discussion about it, taking care to report on additional facts as they developed.”
The Washington Post issued an editor’s note that same month, which was notably missing an apology.
The statement said:
Subsequent reporting, a student’s statement and additional video allow for a more complete assessment of what occurred, either contradicting or failing to confirm accounts provided in that story — including that Native American activist Nathan Phillips was prevented by one student from moving on, that his group had been taunted by the students in the lead-up to the encounter, and that the students were trying to instigate a conflict.
So, has the Covington debacle changed the way the media handled claims of racist or bigoted behavior? It’s hard to measure, but just weeks after they botched the incident at the Lincoln Memorial, the media breathlessly and uncritically repeated claims from “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett that he had been assaulted by racist, homophobic Trump supporters in the streets of Chicago at 2 A.M. Smollett was later indicted for staging a hate crime hoax and filing a false police report, charges that were later dropped. (RELATED: Democratic Rep. Bobby Rush: Smollett ‘Devious,’ ‘Disgraceful’)
The common denominator between the alleged Smollett hoax, and the Covington saga were the Make America Great Again hats. The media has had a fraught relationship with this administration, with multiple studies showing that its coverage of Trump has been over 90% negative. In its resistance to this president, perhaps the media has been overzealous in attempting to paint Trump supporters as violent racists.
We witnessed similar sentiments expressed by the press this week in its coverage of a gun rights rally Monday in Richmond, Virginia. Several members of the media falsely claimed that thousands of white nationalists would be attending the rally, and fear-mongered about the possibility of violence. Minority gun owners who attended the rally felt the press was trying to discredit them. The rally ironically occurred just weeks after The Washington Post editorial board lent its support to Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, less than a year after calling for him to resign after racist photos surfaced from his medical school year book.
This situation is a perfect example of why the press has lost touch with many Americans, and instead of trying to earn it back, continues to patronize, and in some cases blame the president for the industry’s misfortune. It’s not hard to understand why many Trump supporters feel the media is out to get them.
The Covington saga gave the press a chance at retrospection, a chance to reckon with how they continue to lose trust with the American people. For the most part, however, it’s been business as usual for the establishment media.