Some prominent media outlets had to update their stories on a video that showed a Native American activist’s encounter with a group of high school boys wearing “Make America Great Again” hats.
A short video and picture of the incident were initially described as the boys antagonizing and mocking the Native American veteran, Nathan Phillips, but a longer video shows that Phillips approached the boys and played a drum in front of one of them, now identified as Nick Sandmann, while the boy looked on and smiled.
Sandmann was able to give his side of the story in a statement, arguing that he and his classmates had participated in some school spirit chants after the Black Hebrew Israelites, a group characterized even by the left-wing Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group, yelled slurs at them. According to Sandmann, the boys chanted with the permission of a chaperone to drown out the slurs.
Just in: Statement of Nick Sandmann, Covington Catholic High School junior, about the event at the Lincoln Memorial: pic.twitter.com/PkuMh2cVZM— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) January 20, 2019
He said in his statement that he was “startled and confused” by Phillips’s approach with his drum.
Another activist near Phillips yelled at the boys that they “stole our land” and to “go back to Europe,” Sandmann said he encouraged his classmates not to respond and that they did not lead "build the wall" chants as some outlets reported.
A longer video of the incident appears to largely corroborate Sandmann’s story.
Here is a video clearly showing that Nathan Phillips approached the students. On the basis of the evidence we now have, I believe that people who issued categorical and one-sided condemnations of the students should retract and apologize. pic.twitter.com/GxmXcMuQgC— Matthew Schmitz (@matthewschmitz) January 20, 2019
Prominent mainstream outlets such as CNN and The New York Times, that had initially led with headlines vilifying the boys had to update their stories.
The New York Times initially led with a “Boys in ‘Make America Great Again’ Hats Mob Native Elder at Indigenous Peoples March” story but added a note to it.
Boys in ‘Make America Great Again’ Hats Mob Native Elder at Indigenous Peoples March https://t.co/VdwkrUt4zZ— The New York Times (@nytimes) January 20, 2019
“Interviews and additional video footage have offered a fuller picture of what happened in this encounter,” they wrote, “including the context that the Native American man approached the students amid broader tensions outside the Lincoln Memorial. Read the latest article here.”
Their latest article is titled “Fuller Picture Emerges of Viral Video of Native American Man and Catholic Students.”
CNN initially tweeted out the claim that “Video shows a crowd of teenagers wearing ‘Make America Great Again’ hats taunting a Native American elder after Friday’s Indigenous Peoples March at the Lincoln Memorial.”
Video shows a crowd of teenagers wearing ‘Make America Great Again’ hats taunting a Native American elder after Friday’s Indigenous Peoples March at the Lincoln Memorial https://t.co/ontMwCAROJ pic.twitter.com/UYkt41mPu6— CNN (@CNN) January 20, 2019
However, they later added updates providing Sandmann’s side of the story and changed the headline to “Teen in confrontation with Native American elder says he was trying to defuse the situation.”
The Washington Post featured an op-ed on Sunday, despite the growing questions surrounding the incident, that was headlined “The Catholic Church’s shameful history of Native American abuses.”
The author claimed that “a large group of teenagers, many of whom wore red Make America Great Again hats, surrounded Nathan Phillips, an elder of the Omaha Nation, while he was performing a song. The teens, who appear to be students at a Catholic high school in Kentucky and apparent participants in the simultaneous March for Life, were caught on video hurling insults at Phillips and trying to drown him out.”
NPR described the incident as “Video Of Kentucky Students Mocking Native American Man Draws Outcry” in a headline that has yet to be updated. The story itself was updated with Sandmann's account.