A popular theme in the Twitterverse this week is “Journalism is dead.” Two events apparently driving the disgust du jour with media incompetence and dishonesty are BuzzFeed’s story about President Trump allegedly asking Michael Cohen to commit perjury, and the group of boys from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky accused of racist behavior in an incident following the March for Life in Washington, D.C.
The BuzzFeed “bombshell” was defused when Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office issued a statement flatly contradicting the story. Authors Anthony Cormier and Jason Leopold admitted that they had not personally seen the documents they referenced. Additional doubt has been cast on the story’s credibility by Leopold’s record of inaccuracies and outright falsehoods.
But the BuzzFeed bust is nothing compared with the Covington Catholic conflagration. A group of boys from the high school were caught on video smiling and chanting as Native American Nathan Phillips – initially reported to be a Vietnam veteran – drummed in front of them. A since-changed New York Times headline read, “Boys in ‘Make America Great Again’ Hats Mob Native Elder at March for Life.” Predictably, the social media mobs piled on, accusing the boys of Trump-inspired racism and white supremacy, calling for them to be doxxed, punched in the face, fed into a woodchipper and burned alive in their school. Covington Catholic High School was forced to close in the face of threats. In a particularly absurd twist, the family of a young man who resembles Covington student Nick Sandmann (front and center in the video) was targeted and threatened with violence.
Not long after the initial video went viral, however, additional information emerged, and the popular narrative began to unravel: A longer video showed the Covington students being verbally assaulted by a group of Black Hebrew Israelites who called them “crackers,” “dogs” and “a bunch of faggots made out of incest.” The Covington students did not “mob” anyone; Phillips and his group approached them. It was Phillips who drummed only inches from Sandmann’s face. And, as it turns out, Phillips did not serve in Vietnam.
Sandmann released a statement and appeared on the “Today” show to defend himself, saying that he stood quietly and smiled to keep a frightening situation from escalating. He denied reports that his classmates were chanting, “Build the wall,” saying that they were loudly chanting school spirit chants only to drown out the insults.
People are justifiably outraged. Yes, it has been a bad week for the media, which is already suffering from record-low credibility. But the notion that media bias or deceit is a recent phenomenon is a sad delusion.