• Ben Henschel

Step it up, Press — Nathan Phillips and the Covington Boys

Updated: Jan 11

It started with a retweet for me, and much of the country. I saw a bunch of white kids with MAGA hats taunting and yelling at a Native American — who was seemingly expressing his own culture peacefully — and one central high schooler staring him down, with a condescending (at least at first glance) smirk on his face.

They all fit a dynamic and narrative that much of the media immediately jumped on — a Native American man, minding his own business, having his own space taken by prejudiced white males.

And it all made sense to me. The type of bigotry that looked to be at hand is nothing old. Racist police officers, the hate displayed during Unite the Right rallies, and even President Trump in a now-famous meeting asking why immigrants from "shithole" countries were brought in as opposed to more "Norwegians" — it all fits the bill.

So, yeah. The media jumped to the conclusion. What a mistake it turned out to be.

The past few days have shown how dangerous jumping to conclusions, especially with pivotal and controversial events, can be.

The press, obviously an essential branch of our constitutional republic, should be held to higher standards. I've written and spoken much of the term "fake news" and its misuse in modern American culture — how President Trump enforces the idea that when news doesn't benefit or is overly critical of him or his supporters, it's almost certainly fake news.

This time, it actually was. I have no problem saying it. The media's immediate jump on the situation, painting a picture of a group of racists ganging up on an innocent man, can't be carried further.

As it turns out, Phillips approached the Covington boys after an observation of their MAGA hats. It was originally reported, then emphasized, that the boys had confronted and surrounded Phillips, instead.

However monetarily advantageous these stories can be — not to mention the surplus of buzz they spread — it's the role of the American press to get the facts right.

The Native American man, Nathan Phillips, appeared on CNN shortly after the event took over Twitter, and subsequently, chyrons on all news networks. He claimed that the students chanted, "build that wall, build that wall," but no such phrase was heard in any of the over four-hour videos recorded on the phones of bystanders.

Why, though, is it dangerous? Yeah, the press made a mistake — and sure, many members have owned that mistake. But that's not the point. This is just what Trump's been waiting for.

Think about it. The press — constantly at odds with Trump due to his incendiary comments towards the industry, yet rightfully so to an extent due to his questionable decisions and excess of lies — was called fake this week, but not just by Trump supporters.

Everyone's been crying fake news. Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians and people who don't know anything about politics, because in this case you don't have to.

And that's the point. Trump has an interesting opportunity here, which is to denounce the press with topical, timely and irrefutable evidence. The press has an even more important opportunity, or rather expectation, to stop him.

Stick with the facts. Conclusions should not and cannot be drawn without all of the evidence. It's nothing new, and the press (CNN specifically) has it down pat. It's just about putting it into action.

Deep and factual reporting on the federal government shutdown is what's important right now. Trump can cut down the press all he wants. But instead of just saying, like him, that the press is at odds with the American people — it's time for the press to start earning back the respect that was lost.

An update on the federal government shutdown: President Trump urges Democrats to accept a 'prorated down payment.'