Coverage of the VA gun rights rally had a lot in common with the Covington Catholic debacle

Media coverage in advance of the Virginia gun rights rally yesterday was heavily focused on the possibility that white supremacists would show up and turn it into Charlotesville 2.0. There were also plenty of left-wing hacks online comparing people who carried rifles to the rally to white supremacists and even suggesting they were eager to shoot black teenagers.

Others said they were terrorists:

While some went the opposite direction and suggested they were behaving like children:

If the tone of all of this sounds familiar that’s because it’s very similar to the left-wing freak out that happened one year ago when a clip of the Covington Catholic high school kids made the rounds. Today, Robby Soave has a piece at reason reminding readers how badly the media handled that one:

In hindsight, the slanted nature of the coverage is almost comical. The Detroit Free Press described the video as depicting “Phillips peacefully drumming and singing, while surrounded by a hostile crowd” and suggested that this “illustrates the nation’s political and racial tensions.” The Daily Beast‘s story was filed under “AWFUL” and described the video as “disturbing.” Its first several paragraphs quote directly from Phillips. NPR asserted that the boys had mocked the Native American man. In story after story, news outlets claimed the Covington kids had shouted “build the wall.” Again, the sole source of this claim was Phillips.

The news stories, at least, were edited; Twitter is not. Thus the reaction on social media was even more unhinged. Reza Aslan, a scholar and television pundit on CNN, tweeted that Sandmann had a “punchable” face. His CNN colleague Bakari Sellers agreedBuzzFeed‘s Anne Petersen tweeted that Sandmann’s face reminded her of Brett Kavanaugh’s—and this wasn’t intended as a compliment.Vulture writer Erik Abriss tweeted that he wanted the kids and their parents to die. Kathy Griffin said the high schoolers ought to be doxxed. As a USA Today retrospective noted, “comedian Patton Oswalt called the students in the video ‘bland, frightened, forgettable kids who’ll grow up to be bland, frightened, forgotten adult wastes.’…Writer Michael Green, referring to Sandmann’sapparent smirking at the Native American man, wrote: ‘A face like that never changes. This image will define his life. No one need ever forgive him.’…Huffington Post reporter Christopher Mathias explicitly compared the students to violent segregationists.”

Soave points out that even after the full video came out and clearly showed the high school kids hadn’t been the aggressors that day, there were still plenty of people ready to double-down on their chosen narrative:

On the next day, January 21, the New York Daily News published a contemptible hit piece attributed to its sports staff titled: “SEE IT: Covington Catholic High students in blackface at past basketball game.” The first sentence read: “This won’t help Nick Sandmann’s case,” as if the story was some sort of indictment of him. In fact, it had nothing to do with him, or any of his classmates at the Lincoln Memorial.

Not to be outdone, Ben Kesslen of NBC News published a story the next day with the headline: “Gay valedictorian banned from speaking at Covington graduation ‘not surprised’ by D.C. controversy.” Kesslen’s piece included critical remarks from the gay valedictorian, as well as a local Native American activist group for good measure. The Covington kids “were not blameless,” said the valedictorian. Readers who consumed the article too quickly may have missed that this student hailed from a different Covington school (albeit one in the same diocese), rendering his subjective impression of what may or may not have happened at the Lincoln Memorial fairly useless.

The name in that last paragraph caught my attention because Ben Kesslen also wrote one of the most hyperbolic pieces in advance of the Virginia gun rights rally for NBC News: “As gun rights rally looms in Virginia, Richmond residents fear another Charlottesville.”

As gun rights activists, white nationalists and militia groups prepare to rally at the state Capitol on Monday to protest proposed gun control laws, residents are praying it won’t be a repeat of the violent 2017 rally in Charlottesville that ended in a woman’s death…

Some Richmond residents, whose jobs are near Capitol Square, said they don’t want to go to work Monday either, but they have no choice. Many area businesses will be closed for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but a few retail and service employees whose workplaces will remain open still have to show up.

“We’re terrified,” said one woman, who works nearby and asked not to be named because she feared retribution from her employer.

After the rally ended peacefully, Kesslen wrote a follow up titled, “At tense Virginia rally, gun rights activists vow their fight is just getting started.”

In the days leading up to the rally, there were fears that it would be a repeat of the violent 2017 protest in Charlottesville that ended in a woman’s death. Gun safety groups canceled a MLK Day vigil at the Capitol that was supposed to begin after the gun rights rally.

But the rally was largely peaceful, with no reported violence, despite the presence of some extremist groups.

So all the fear-mongering was for naught and predictions that this would be another Charlotesville were completely wrong in the same way that claims a group of high school kids were harassing a Native American elder were wrong (and for the same reasons). The media and the social media left loves to leap to negative conclusions about people on the right they can frame as dangerous right-wingers. The stories and the tweets seem to write themselves. And when reality turns out to be different, they barely acknowledge how wrong their assumptions were from the start. This is going to keep happening until the major media outlets (like NBC) hire some people who aren’t knee-jerk left-wing ideologues.