By Juan Bibiano
The mainstream media was quick to jump to conclusions, yet after additional footage provided some context, many changed their tunes, or simply deleted their inflammatory coverage. Now, parents of the Covington kids are preparing for legal action.
CNN’s Bakari Sellers deleted a tweet saying that someone should punch Sandmann and his classmates in the face. Another host from the network, S.E. Cupp, came forward with an apology saying she “100% regrets” reacting quickly to the initial video. The Canadian CBC News admitted fault and deleted a tweeet.
And for those who didn’t retract or delete accusatory messages or stories about the students…they seem to be in some deep trouble.
Robert Barnes, an attorney and “Law&Crime” columnist, has been in touch with some of the students’ families about possibly filing lawsuits over the treatment the teens have faced.
“Anyone who issued false statements that cast the kids in a false light & fail to retract/correct” could face lawsuits, Barnes said.
Although statements of opinion are protected speech, presenting a factually inaccurate version of the events, however, is something different. if someone merely gave their take on the actual facts, that would likely be okay.
Typically, to prove a defamation case, one needs to show that a statement of fact was false, defamatory, and caused harm.
Those who reasonably relied on the information that was out there, however, could be in the clear if they later made corrections, since defamation laws generally have a standard of negligence when it comes to private citizens. If they had no reason to believe that what they were saying was wrong, they may not be liable. Of course, once new information came to light, those who didn’t correct inaccurate accounts or continued to present them could be in trouble.
The student from Kentucky’s all-male Covington Catholic High School, now identified as Nick Sandmann, drew backlash online after a clip emerged Saturday of him smiling and standing close to the face of Nathan Phillips, a known liberal activist, an Omaha elder and a supposed Vietnam War veteran participating in the Indigenous Peoples March in D.C. on Friday. In the video of the incident, Sandmann can be seen standing in front of Phillips on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial as the Native American elder sings and beats on a drum. Other young people standing close by can be seen chanting as they encircle Phillips and the student.
In response to the widespread media coverage, lawmakers, Native American leaders, and the Diocese of Covington and Covington Catholic High School were quick to condemn Sandmann’s behavior. The school announced it was investigating the situation and said he could be expelled
But a longer video from a different angle shows that Philips was the one to approach the teenagers, taking a left on a landing along the stairway up the Lincoln Memorial and walking directly into the throng of students.
The extended video also shows that long before Phillips arrived on the scene, a small group of Black Hebrew Israelites on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial yelling obscenities at passersbys, including the students who would eventually crowd the area, appear to be the ones who incited the confrontation.
This new information reveals a counter-narrative to the one that, for more than a day, pinned the outrage solely on the backs of the teenagers.
The extended video shows the group of around five men yelling at a small gathering of nearby Covington Catholic High School, calling them “a bunch of incest babies” and saying they “worship blasphemy,” among other taunts. The men also said the teenagers show how “this is what America — make America great looks like” – a reference to President Trump’s “Make American Great Again” slogan.
As the men continue to taunt the students, the crowd grows and starts chanting when one of them takes their shirt off. Minutes later Phillips arrives on the scene with his drum.
In recalling the “ugly” situation to the Washington Post on Saturday, Philips told the newspaper he felt threatened when he was stopped in his tracks by Sandmann in the “MAGA” hat, who was standing by a crowd SUPPOSEDLY shouting, “Build that wall, build that wall.” Which we now know didn’t happen.
Philips told MSNBC on Sunday he approached the teens after he saw tensions bubbling over between the younger crowd that was there for the anti-abortion March for Life rally and the nearby Black Hebrew Israelites.
“Look at my America. Look at my black and white brothers here. They’re tearing at each other. We are at a point where you can’t stand by and watch this,” Phillips said.
Sandmann told CNN on Sunday he and his peers were waiting at the Lincoln Memorial for the bus after the demonstrations. The junior said he and he family had received death threats.
“Because we were being loudly attacked and taunted in public, a student in our group asked one of our teacher chaperones for permission to begin our school spirit chants to counter the hateful things that were being shouted at our group,” Sandmann wrote in a statement. “We would not have done that without obtaining permission from the adults in charge of our group.”
“I was not intentionally making faces at the protester. I did smile at one point because I wanted him to know that I was not going to become angry, intimidated or be provoked into a larger confrontation,” he said. “I harbor no ill will for this person. I respect this person’s right to protest and engage in free speech activities, and I support his chanting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial any day of the week. I believe he should re-think his tactics of invading the personal space of others, but that is his choice to make.”
The emergence of a longer video of what transpired and a statement from a second Covington Catholic High School student, retweeted on Twitter by National Review columnist Dan McLaughlin, have muddled first impressions of Philips’ interaction with the teenagers.
An email from the student sent to WKRC, a Cincinnati-area CBS affiliate, said Sandmann and his friends were “confused” by Philips’ approach. Further, the second student said they did not “partake in any physical or verbal abuse, did not chant ‘build the wall’ or mock or anything of the like, and did not seek to incite violence.”
“My friend faces expulsion for simply standing still and our entire school is being disparaged for a crime we did not commit,” the student wrote.
“It begins to look as if the people who did not pig-pile on this story before waiting to learn more about it made the right choice,” McLaughlin said in response.
McLaughlin was joined by New York Times columnist David Brooks and Andy Lassner, executive producer of “The Ellen Show,” among others, in expressing doubt over the original perception of the incident.
“Yesterday I had one impression of the maga kids from Kentucky. Now after seeing more videos I have a different more complicated impression. Makes all the hot takes seem silly,” Brooks tweeted.
“I deleted my tweet about the MAGA boys. I’m willing to watch ‘all the video’ when I get time. But more importantly, because of a high follower count, I don’t want to contribute to being part of a mob going after minors. Let’s focus on shitty adults turning out shitty kids,” Lassner wrote.
Other people, including figures from the Catholic faith, such as James Martin SJ and Robert P. George also offered apologies for how they initially casted judgment.
Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., in whose congressional district Covington Catholic High School is located, put out a five-tweet thread expressing his dismay with the initial media coverage and praised the school boys who came to D.C. for the March for Life for their show of restraint.
“The honorable and tolerant students of Covington Catholic School came to DC to advocate for the unborn and to learn about our nation’s Capitol. What they got was a brutal lesson in the unjust court of public opinion and social media mobs,” he said.
Although on Sunday word of a more complicated story began to spread, the reporting over the past 24 hours in many cases either ignored or glossed over the fact that that the Black Hebrew Israelites appear to have been the root of the eventual confrontation. For instance, BuzzFeed News, which interviewed multiple students who were present when Phillips arrived on the scene, didn’t mention those adults once, focusing instead on how the “MAGA hat–wearing teenage boys taunted a Native American elder.”
The same goes for CNN and others. The mainstream just glossed right over the Black Hebrew Israelites’ role in the situation. They are the real racists. The real bigots.
Only Heavy.com claims to have gotten in touch with Sandmann’s mother believed to be at the center of the controversy, and she pinned the blame squarely on the men she called the “black Muslims.”
“Shame on you! Were you there? Did you hear the names the people where calling these boys? It was shameful,” she wrote in an email to Heavy.com. “Did you witness the black Muslims yelling profanities and video taping trying to get something to further your narrative of hatred?? Did you know that this “man” came up to this one boy and drummed in his face? Shame on you. Only reporting what you want. More fake news.”
As for Nathan Phillips, the professional protester and so-called veteran who started this media firestorm, he claims to be a “Recon Ranger” from the Vietnam war.
Yet there is no such thing as a “Recon Ranger”. The closest thing is the 75th Ranger Regiment Reconnaissance Company, established 1984. Way after the Vietnam war.
The biggest issue with his claims, however, is his age.
Several news stories say he is 64 years old and there was a 2000 article from an Omaha newspaper saying that he was 45 years old. So let’s say he is 64.
He was supposedly a combat troop, yet the last combat troops arrived in 1972, when Phillips would have been 17 years old.
The last American combat unit was a task force from the 3d Bn, 21st Inf Regt and battery B, 3d Bn, 82d Field Artillery Regt which had been stationed in Danang (I commanded battery C, 3d Bn, 82d FA and B btry was our ‘sister’ battalion). These were the last US ground combat units in Vietnam. This was in 1972.