Wednesday, January 23, 2019
The Speed of Gossip
Rudyard Kipling worked for newspapers in his younger days, and he once wrote a poem called "The Press" in which he described the news media of his time as "king over all the children of pride". He also described how "the old black art" worked in politics: "The bubble is blown and the bubble is burst by us and such as we." I've worked on three magazines, two newspapers and a radio station, and I can tell you personally that the only major change between Kipling's day and ours is that electronics has made the bubble-blowing -- and sometimes the bubble-bursting -- a lot faster. For example, I give you the case of the Covington Kids.
It started with a 10-second (at most!) video/sound-bite on MSNBC, on Saturday morning. There was a three-second shot of some high school kids in sports-team clothes (except for one boy who had pulled off his shirt and was dancing like a cheerleader) standing in a line, giving sports-team chants. This was followed by another three-second shot of a kid in a team shirt and a MAGA hat, smiling with almost-desperate politeness while an old man with an Indian (ooops, mea culpa -- "Native American") look chanted and pounded a drum less than a foot from his face.
By themselves, these two shots wouldn't have meant much -- sports team chanting, team-kid smiling at drummer -- but the ten-second-or-less voice-over from the reporter "put it in context", that is, explained it all for us in a quick headline-blurt: "Covington Catholic School Trump Supporters Harass Native Americans at the Lincoln Memorial!" Never mind that we didn't see any "harassment"; the reporter said it, so it must be true.
Almost instantly, the word spread to Democrats everywhere, who responded -- on the media and the Internet -- with righteous indignation. A thunder of Twitter-tweets called for beating the kids, expelling all of them, burning down the school, and Disney film producer Jack Morrissy posted a cute meme showing "MAGA kids go screaming, hats first, into the woodchipper". SNL writer Sarah Beattie offered a blowjob to whoever would first punch the MAGA-capped boy in the face. The Native American drum-beater, described as Vietnam veteran Nathan Phillips, only called for expelling the kids. He also claimed that the boy whose face he was drumming in, Nicholas Sandmann, mocked and taunted him for his race (though in the video we never saw the boy's mouth moving), and the other boys surrounded him, chanting "Build the Wall!!", and that he felt threatened and intimidated.
He forgot one thing; there were other people there with cameras, cell-phones, and Internet connections.
By Sunday the counter-story came rolling in, backed up by other videos, witnesses' statements, and Internet research. First, the kids had shown up early that morning for their annual anti-abortion protest (what do you expect? It's a Catholic school), where they marched around with their signs for about an hour, then lined up at the bus-stop to go home. They were approached by a bunch of Black protesters who called themselves the Israelite Hebrews(?) who started yelling "homosexual insults" at the boys. The Covington kids responded by chanting their school sports-cheers so as to drown out the yells. Then all of three Indians approached the boys, beating their drums. Since the drums were in time with the chants, the kids thought the Natives were sympathizing with them -- until they got closer, and the kids could hear that the Indians were calling them "White beasts" and yelling at them to go back to "the caves of Europe". Nathan Phillips pushed into the line of students until he was right in the middle of them, nose to nose with Nicholas Sandmann. Sandmann stood his ground, put on a nervous smile, stopped another kid from getting in an argument with one of the Black protesters, and just waited while the Blacks and Indians threw insults at the kids. Meanwhile the bus pulled up and stopped, and the schoolkids started climbing on it. When the last of the students got on the bus, the Black and Native protesters turned away and started chatting with reporters.
Also, more information surfaced about Nathan Phillips. He wasn't a Vietnam veteran after all. He had pulled stunts like this before, to the point where police were obliged to escort him away, and... his story about the Lincoln Memorial incident kept changing, and his every claim was refuted by other videos of the incident.
More, the same media pundits who puffed up Phillips and his cronies in the first place were suspiciously silent on real attacks against Native protesters at Standing Rock, and when Jordan Stevens was beaten to death -- on video -- by ten cops in Yuma, and when Native women were kidnapped and sold into sex-slavery in North Dakota. Other media outlets have begun wondering why the big news companies ignored these real abuses, but raised a nationwide howl about a smiling schoolboy in a MAGA hat. Likewise, lesser pundits have apologized for jumping the gun on their assumptions about the schoolboys, while the major media -- CNN, MSNBC and ABC -- only backpedaled, claiming that the boys' chanting and Sandmann's stoic smiling were "insensitive".
What this reveals is not only the blatant anti-Trump bias of the major media, but their unwillingness to learn the whole story, or check the facts -- as shown in last week's scandal about "Buzzfeed". They're willing to toss out the basic rules of journalism for any chance to attack Trump, or his followers, or even a kid in a MAGA hat.
How can any sensible person trust them, really?