The Covington Catholic story separates the wheat from the chaff


Virgil Banowetz

The reports about the confrontation between Covington High School students, Nathan Phillips, and the Black Hebrew Israelite demonstrators on 18 January 2019 present a great opportunity to evaluate our media.

Articles that came out after 1/20/2019 are the best way to separate the good from the bad. Those who got it right earlier than that can be counted among the good guys, but maybe some of these got it right just because their political agenda just happened to match the truth. Those who held back and did not publish until they had a solid story can also be counted among the good guys. But a more significant test is those who reacted to the pressure to report sooner, went with their instincts, got it wrong, recognized their mistake, corrected it, and apologized for it. These are the people more interested in the truth than their political agenda. They admit to failing the “Covington Catholic Test” but they pass the truth and integrity test. If you want reliable media, check out your news sources by searching for your source plus “Covington Nick Sandmann Nathan Phillips”.

So far I have seen two writers who fail the “Covington Catholic Test” but pass the truth and integrity test with flying colors:

  1. Chicago Tribune (Jerry Davich)
  2. Atlantic (Julie Zimmerman)

After two days of watching the multitude of videos and reading statements by Nathan Phillips, it was clear to me that the Covington students were not responsible for the problem. They were waiting for the bus while Black Hebrew Israelite demonstrators were dishing out verbal abuse to both the students and the Native American demonstrators. These three groups were in the area around the Lincoln Memorial.

The students (with the approval of their chaperones) decided to defuse the situation and distract from the verbal abuse they were taking by starting a school chant. It was loud enough to drown out the verbal abuse. This chant may have been misinterpreted by Phillips, who seemed to think it aggressive against the Black Hebrew group and required action to distract from it.

Philips approached the students while beating on his drum. The students got out of his way until he reached Sandmann who stood his ground. Phillips called this blocking, but apparently he does not know what that means. As in basketball, it’s called blocking if you move to block someone’s movement. Based on his interviews later, Phillips seemed to have the attitude that he owned the area and could move anyplace he wanted. He expected others to get out of his way, and perhaps, defer to his age.

It appeared as though the 64 year old Phillips was trying to intimidate the students with his steady drum beating, but his action was more likely driven by an attempt to defuse the potential conflict between the students and black agitators. It could also have been to stop them from distracting attention from his own demonstration on behalf of Native Americans.

The ‘Tomahawk Chop’ by some of the students was an ill advised response, but that is the product of the bad example of adults sports fans oblivious to the offenses of Native American Mascotry. To say the students were mocking or harassing is a stretch to the point of libel. If it is damaging the reputation of a minor, you do not need to prove malice to win a judgment. If I were Sandmann’s parents, I would seek legal action against anyone destroying the reputation on my son. This is what is playing out now. Everyone involved has been advised to preserve documentation.

As if it’s not bad enough to publish fake news carelessly and maliciously, too many writers chose to color their story with even more falsehoods.

Many of the stories refer to Phillips as a Vietnam war veteran, but this is not so.

Phillips statements should be considered in light of his criminal background.

Some statements from Phillips about the incident appear to be delusional as they contradicted what is readily observable.

  • He says he heard “build that wall” chants when none of the multitude of videos show it.
  • He advanced on the crowd of students who did nothing to threaten him but yet he later called them beasts, and thought their prey were the black Hebrew Israelites who were there insulting everyone.

If you like to pay attention to media with stories that make you feel good about your politics, the list of sources below is for you. If not, you should know who in the media to ignore. This is what I call my “Naughty Media” list: The writers below deserve an F for their performance. They got it wrong and are sticking to it.

  1. HBO (Bill Maher) [called 16-year-old Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann a “little prick”]
  2. Huffington Post (Rosalind Wiseman) 1/22/2019 10:32AM: ”The students mocked an elderly Vietnam veteran.”
  3. Huffington Post (Jessica Luther) 1/23/2019 04:06 PM: ”The students from Covington Catholic High School … were harassing a Native American.”
  4. The Guardian (Jason Wilson) “…students wearing pro-Trump MAGA hats taunting the Omaha tribe elder.”
  5. Chicago Tribune (Eric Zorn) “boys from Covington Catholic High School were acting like jerks.”
  6. Think Progress (Rebecca Nagle) “Nicholas Sandmann, whose facial expression was shared widely across social media, is seen staring Phillips down, smirking”.
  7. Deadspin (Laura Wagner) “white teens taunting and harassing a Native American elder named Nathan Phillips.”