Andrew Sullivan on Covington: 'They were 16-year-olds subjected to verbal racist assault'

In science one of the ways you confirm your results is by having someone else replicate the experiment. If follow the same procedure and reach the same result, it’s a sign your experiment wasn’t a fluke or an accident. The same thing applies to some degree to people’s read on the Covington High story from last weekend. On Wednesday I wrote about Caitlan Flanagan’s excellent piece at the Atlantic in which she spelled out what many before her had intentionally glossed over. It was the Black Hebrew Israelites who were spewing ugly racial venom, not the high school kids.

Yesterday, Andrew Sullivan wrote up his own take on the situation after watching the videos and reached almost exactly the same conclusion. So is this repetition? Yes. But it’s also confirmation that the Atlantic piece wasn’t a fluke. If you watch the tapes with a relatively open mind you should be outraged and not at the Catholic high school kids:

What I saw was extraordinary bigotry, threats of violence, hideous misogyny, disgusting racism, foul homophobia, and anti-Catholicism — not by the demonized schoolboys, but by grown men with a bullhorn, a small group of self-styled Black Hebrew Israelites…

And yet the elite media seemed eager to downplay their role, referring to them only in passing, noting briefly that they were known to be anti-Semitic and anti-gay. After several days, the New York Times ran a news analysis on the group by John Eligon that reads like a press release from the sect: “They shout, use blunt and sometimes offensive language, and gamely engage in arguments aimed at drawing listeners near.”…

The Washington Post ran a Style section headline about “the calculated art of making people uncomfortable.” In a news story entirely about the Black Israelites, the Washington Post did not quote a single thing they had said on the tape, gave a respectful account of their theology, and only mentioned their status as a “hate group” in the 24th paragraph, and put the term in scare quotes. Vox managed to write an explainer that also did not include a single example of any of the actual insults hurled at the Covington kids.

Even when the media saw the hate coming from the cultists, they basically downplayed it or omitted it entirely, knowing the kids on the receiving end were taking a beating on social media. It’s a truly sickening display as Sullivan points out [emphasis added]:

Here is how the Black Israelites verbally assaulted the schoolboys: “Bring your cracker ass up here. Dirty ass crackers, your day coming. We can give a hell about your police. No one’s playing with these dusty-ass crackers.” Another: “Don’t get too close or your ass gonna get punished … You crackers are some slithery ass bastards. You better keep your distance.” And this, surveying the scene: “I see you, a bunch of incest babies … Babies made out of incest. If you’re the great damn nation, get rid of the lice on your back. … You’re a bunch of hyenas. You outnumber us but you keep your distance. You couldn’t touch us if you wanted to. You worship blasphemy.”…

Yes, the boys did chant some school riffs; I’m sure some of those joining in the Native American drumming and chanting were doing it partly in mockery, but others may have just been rolling with it. Yes, they should not have been wearing MAGA hats to a pro-life march. They aren’t angels; they’re teenage boys. But they were also subjected for quite a while to a racist, anti-Catholic, homophobic tirade on a loudspeaker, which would be more than most of us urbanites could bear — and they’re adolescents literally off the bus from Kentucky. I heard no slurs back. They stayed there because they were waiting for a bus, not to intimidate anyone.

To put it bluntly: They were 16-year-olds subjected to verbal racist assault by grown men; and then the kids were accused of being bigots. It just beggars belief that the same liberals who fret about “micro-aggressions” for 20-somethings were able to see 16-year-olds absorbing the worst racist garbage from religious bigots … and then express the desire to punch the kids in the face.

How did this grotesque inversion of the truth become the central narrative for what seemed to be the entire class of elite journalists on Twitter? That’s the somewhat terrifying question.

Full credit to Sullivan for zeroing in on the really outrageous core of this, the idea that the actual victims of racist hate were portrayed as the perpetrators even after the media should have known better. But let’s be honest. The guy who made a big splash for himself by coining the word “Christianist” as a way to compare people on the religious right to Islamists probably shouldn’t be lecturing anyone about beating up on religious kids. So when Sullivan goes on to decry the extreme language being used by the left as leading us toward the void, it rings a bit hollow for me.

But while Sullivan may not be the perfect person to deliver the message, he’s right about the problem. And the problem is not very hard to discern. There is a clear double-standard in how the media judged the Black Hebrew Israelites and how it judged the white Catholic kids they were abusing. One group behaved abysmally and got a pass. The other behaved pretty well and got days of online hate and death threats.

I don’t think the difference had to do with sex or religion. I think it had to do with race. The media was primed to see the black and Native American people as victims and the white kids as villains. And when it turned out that wasn’t true, they adjusted their rhetoric just enough to apologize to the kids (at least some of them did) but never really to condemn the people spewing hate in the first place.

So long as the media is primed to hold people to entirely different standards based on how they look, the result is going to be garbage like the Covington story (and previous examples of the same dynamic like Hand’s up, Don’t shoot). The solution is obvious: Judge people as individuals by the content of their character not the color of their skin. That means that sometimes the white kids, even the smirky ones, aren’t the villains. And of course, it also means that often the black man or woman is the hero (that’s you, James Shaw and you too Jonathan Smith). Anyone who can’t see that is making a very old and very ugly mistake. It would do the nation a lot of good if the media would stop making those sorts of snap judgments before knowing all the facts. They’d probably be less likely to do so if they weren’t so monolithic politically.