Media At Fault In Native American Controversy

Daniel Nesbitt ’22
Staff Writer

This brief respite from Trinity has yielded plenty of interesting political events, however, there is one in particular that hits close to home: the confrontation between a MAGA-hat-wearing high schooler and a Native American man in Washington, D.C. This event struck me as Covington Catholic High School, the school that the boys attend, is a mere 30 minute drive from my home in Cincinnati, OH. In fact, I’ve even competed against the all-boys school in lacrosse.

The image of this confrontation has gone viral. With expediency, both The Washington Post and The New York Times rushed to report on the story, however they utterly failed to paint an accurate picture of the situation. The Times ran the headline, “Boys in ‘Make America Great Again’ Hats Mob Native Elder at Indigenous Peoples March.” The Post then reported the account of the Native Leader, Nathan Phillips, while failing to gather additional evidence from other parties involved. They were so uncritical, in fact, that they reported blatant lies as factual truth. For example, the Post wrote that Phillips felt threatened by the high schoolers and that they surrounded him. In reality, however, video evidence revealed that Phillips approached them and sauntered into the middle of their group.

These major news outlets, in failing to gather corroborating evidence and rushing to report first, caused this young high schooler to be deemed the new face of racism in America. These major news outlets made Phillips out to be the victim of racist Trump supporters when in fact, Phillips was the aggressor of the conflict and the high schoolers were the ones enduring racial epithets and taunts. Reason’s Robby Soave reports, “Far from engaging in racially motivated harassment, the group of mostly white, MAGA-hat-wearing male teenagers remained relatively calm and restrained despite being subjected to incessant racist, homophobic, and bigoted verbal abuse by members of the bizarre religious sect Black Hebrew Israelites, who were lurking nearby.” The high schoolers then sang a school song, at which point Phillips put himself between the high schoolers and the Black Hebrew Israelites. All this was confirmed by a longer two hour video of the events that both the Times and the Post failed to uncover until a day after their damning headlines.

The media’s quick reporting has major consequences, both for individuals and society. This high schooler has now received threats and has been labeled a racist for simply standing still and doing nothing while wearing a MAGA hat. The incident has, to some, reaffirmed perceptions of racial tension and conflict. All of this could have been avoided if the media had focused on reporting a comprehensive, even-handed depiction of the events, however the need to be first to report triumphed in the end.

Perhaps Denzel Washington summed it up best: “We live in a society now where it’s just first, who cares, get it out there, we don’t care who it hurts. We don’t care who we destroy. We don’t care if it’s true. Just say it, sell it.”

This need to be first in reporting only drives a wedge further into our increasingly polarized society. When the primary goal of the press is no longer to report the truth, we risk destroying our free society.