On a weekly basis, we watch members of the media hyperbolize or distort reality to fit their politically motivated foregone conclusions. It’s no longer shocking. Many journalists view themselves not as reporters but as vigilantes: they aim not to share the truth, but to sway their readers or viewers in the ideological direction they deem moral. It is no surprise, then, that they often get the story wrong. Blinding bias tends to have that effect.
We recognize that most mainstream outlets don’t like anyone to the right of Nancy Pelosi, so we read and watch reports with a critical eye. Knowing the truth about a person or a situation takes significant effort and digging, and most people get burnt out and eventually don’t bother. The media know this well.
So, we learn to ignore the madness. We become comfortable in the not knowing. We grow content with the realization we will never be told the whole story. Most of us don’t have time to fact-check the fact-checkers, so we unplug and disengage, unwilling to confront the reality that we live in an Orwellian dystopia where ignorance is strength, unsure of whether it’s Eurasia or Eastasia we’re fighting. So, we tune in to the Two Minutes of Hate on Twitter, read and provide our hottakes, and tune out until tomorrow.
But, sometimes, there’s a story that wakes us up from our stupor—something that reminds us of just how tangibly dangerous misinformation is. The media pushes an inch too far, and we erupt.
Cue the Covington coverage. Journalists and pundits ran with an incomplete story about an out-of-context video, showing a student at the March For Life wearing a red MAGA hat smiling in front of a Native American man beating a drum. They said the boy, Nick Sandmann, and the surrounding students were mocking and harassing the man, Nathan Phillips. This, apparently, was an egregious crime. Accordingly, blue checkmarks and the members of the Hollywood Morality Police raged uncontrollably, blaming Donald Trump for inciting this kind of horrific bigotry and calling for the Sandmann’s information to be made public. Others suggested Sandmann should be expelled and that his mom should be fired from her job.
We heard the students had been chanting “build the wall!” and were behaving aggressively. Phillips himself said the kids were to blame for starting the conflict seen on video. The media ran with this. They had to—the story checked all of the boxes they are ever-so-eager to check: white, Christian, pro-life Trump supporter is a racist. They couldn’t have concocted a more delicious recipe if they tried.
Then the truth came out. Nearly two hours of footage was published, and the context it provided exonerated the Sandmann and the other Covington students. As it turns out, members of the cult, Black Hebrew Israelites, were the real perpetrators of hate on the scene, hurling homophobic and racist insults at the teens (haven’t heard a peep from leftists about them, though—fascinating). Phillips marched in-between the two groups, beating his drum, and approached Sandmann. Sandmann stood there, smiling. Other kids stood there, smiling and laughing, too. There is no one shouting “build the wall!”, no student acting in an aggressive manner, no evidence of Sandmann or his peers inciting any chaos.
Understandably, conservatives were outraged. As The Washington Post noted, we “pounced.” Chris Hayes of MSNBC tweeted that he hadn’t seen the right this worked up over a story since Kavanaugh. He’s absolutely right. Call us crazy, but we have distinct distaste for ruining people’s lives based on a lie. We’re not too keen on exploiting a kid to perpetuate a factless narrative.
The media seem genuinely shocked by this, and, amazingly, downright defensive. Kirsten Powers of CNN concluded that the “real lesson” of all of this is that the media “shouldn’t succumb to orchestrated harassment campaigns against journalists.” Rewire News claimed those who corrected the story were merely “whitewashing white supremacy.” Right. Okay. It’s not journalists’ fault for getting it wrong, it’s everyone else’s fault for correcting them. Because, like, racism, or something. Got it.
I guess this is what AOC meant when she said it’s possible to be morally right while being factually incorrect. The truth doesn’t matter, as long as the “correct” narrative’s still there. Sounds good.
Hayes’s observation of the similarities between the outrage regarding Kavanaugh and Covington was more profound than he likely intended. In both cases, leftists, the media and even a few of their friends on the right maligned Kavanaugh despite the holes in their story. They knew the facts weren’t all there, and they ran with it anyway. We understood then what we understand now about the Covington case: this has much less to do with actions and much more to do with beliefs. Kavanaugh and Sandmann are conservative, white, Christian males. Kavanaugh was nominated by Trump; Sandmann is a Trump supporter. In the inane world of intersectionality, they’re the worst of the worst. Conservatives weren’t going to stand for that kind of bigotry last year, and we’re not willing to stand for it now.
The media seem confused by pushback of this ferocity. So insulated are they in their progressive echo chambers that they forget there are millions who don’t see the world like they do, who are not so quick to believe someone is evil because they’re a white Republican. They seem to particularly underestimate the compassion and passion of non-far-left women, who don’t look at men Kavanaugh and Sandmann and see toxic masculinity and racism but rather see in them the men and boys in our lives that we respect and love.
While it doesn’t appear that members of the media have learned their lesson on the dangers of false reporting, we should learn ours: never stop digging for details and asking for answers. We are alone in our journey to distinguish between fact and fiction, but it’s worth the taking the trek. As we’ve learned again this week, people’s very lives are at risk if we don’t.