Over at the Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan has an excellent piece titled “The Media Botched the Covington Catholic Story.” She’s not the first person to attempt to write a clear narrative explaining what happened. Robby Soave at Reason wrote a good one Sunday. Megan McArdle did an epic tweetstorm on the story today which is also worth reading. She’s also not the first one to blame the media for egregious reporting mistakes. But her summary may be the best I’ve read because it walks readers through the explicitly racist attacks on the Covington High students which preceded the staredown. Those attacks came from a group of Black Hebrew Israelites that CNN described as “four African American men preaching about the Bible and oppression.”
It seems that the Black Hebrew Israelites had come to the Lincoln Memorial with the express intention of verbally confronting the Native Americans, some of whom had already begun to gather as the video begins, many of them in Native dress. The Black Hebrew Israelites’ leader begins shouting at them: “Before you started worshipping totem poles, you was worshipping the true and living God. Before you became an idol worshipper, you was worshipping the true and living God. This is the reason why this land was taken away from you! Because you worship everything except the most high. You worship every creation except the creator—and that’s what we are here to tell you to do.”…
It was heating up to be an intersectional showdown for the ages, with the Black Hebrew Israelites going head to head with the Native Americans. But when the Native woman talks about the importance of peace, the preacher finally locates a unifying theme, one more powerful than anything to be found in Proverbs, Isaiah, or Ecclesiastes.
He tells her there won’t be any food stamps coming to reservations or the projects because of the shutdown, and then gesturing to his left, he says, “It’s because of these … bastards over there, wearing ‘Make America Great Again’ hats.”…
“Why you not angry at them?” the Black Hebrew Israelite asks the Native American woman angrily.
“That’s right,” says one of his coreligionists, “little corny-ass Billy Bob.”…
“You little dirty-ass crackers. Your day coming. Your day coming … ’cause your little dusty asses wouldn’t walk down a street in a black neighborhood, and go walk up on nobody playing no games like that,” he calls after them, but they take no notice. “Yeah, ’cause I will stick my foot in your little ass.”
It was in response to all of this that the boys began doing school chants. They were not chanting “Build the Wall.” It was at this point that Nathan Phillips began beating his drum and walking into the midst of the Covington High students. Despite all the racist language beforehand, Phillips would describe the boys as racists about to pounce on their “prey” and to minimize the Black Hebrew Israelites as people just sharing “truth.” He told CNN, “some of it was educational, and it was truth, and it was history about religious views and ideologies, but these other folks, the young students, they couldn’t see it.” On the contrary, Flanagan points out some of the Catholic boys did talk to the Black Hebrew preacher at one point and only showed disrespect to him once:
I recommend that you watch the whole of the Black Hebrew Israelites’ video, which includes a long, interesting passage, in which the Covington Catholic boys engage in a mostly thoughtful conversation with the Black Hebrew Israelite preacher. Throughout the conversation, they disrespect him only once—to boo him when he says something vile about gays and lesbians.
There was plenty of racist, ugly language being tossed around in front of the Lincoln Memorial last Friday but the media botched the story when it assumed it was coming from the high school students. In reality, it was coming from the cult members who were apparently there to agitate the Native Americans and only turned on the white kids when that wasn’t going well. In fact, the preacher’s question “Why you not angry at them?” pretty much sums up this entire affair. The boys in the MAGA hats were a soft target. The cult preacher saw it and so did the media and the left-wing celebrities who went all in on the teens because why not be angry at them?
It was a disgusting display but even now the Washington Post is still missing the point. Whenever the media doesn’t want the story of what happened to be the story (in this case the media went hog wild on a racialized attack without knowing the facts), conservatives seizing becomes the alternate story. So the Post’s take on what really happened here is, not surprisingly, that conservatives seized on an innocent mistake.
But Flanagan, at the Atlantic, gets it right in her closing admonition to the media: “Millions of Americans believe you hate them and that you will causally harm them. Two years ago, they fought back against you, and they won. If Trump wins again, you will once again have played a small but important role in that victory.” She’s absolutely right.