DANIEL VAUGHAN: What the media purposely ignored about the Covington Catholic students

January 25, 2019

The media blowup over the video involving several students from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky was the equivalent of throwing a bunch of Rorschach tests in front of journalists, pundits, and their audiences and seeing the reaction. The longer the media dwells on the story, the less we seem to know about any of the people involved, and more the more we uncover about the inherent biases baked into the media analysis.

But just as this Rorschach test moment reveals biases through how various people responded to the controversy, it’s just as telling to look at what people haven’t said.

The internet, being what it is, focused exclusively on just a few seconds of the overall exchange, and from this, launched extreme condemnation at the kids involved. Robby Soave at Reason magazine did what no other journalist at any other media organization did: he watched more than two hours of video coverage of the event, and defended the students after watching it.

But what makes this event an ink blot for media elites and other Americans has very little to do with what actually happened on the scene. As Ross Douthat noted in the New York Times, the story is almost devilishly set up as purposely divisive.

“To understand what makes this incident so brilliant in its divisiveness, you need to see the tapestry in full, how each constituent element (abortion, race, MAGA, white boys, Catholicism, Native American ritual) automatically confirms priors on both sides of our divide,” Douthat wrote.

The quick video edit helps, too, because it is intentionally and selectively edited to elicit a response. Robby Soave had to force his way through a whole two hours of video before he could sufficiently debunk what happened — something the pundits on Twitter and in the media (whose responses to the controversy meant political and reputational life or death) failed to do.

Meanwhile, newspapers like the Washington Post have the equivalent of scoreboards in their offices, telling them which stories and which writers are pumping out the best stories that reap the highest profits — and when a story (or video, like this one) starts getting clicks on social media that confirms reporting done by their top-tier journalists, accuracy and objectivity get thrown out the window.

The story was, as reporters say, too good to check.

Instead of relying on objective standards, the media pumped out condemnations as fast as their fingers could click “send.”

And that lack of objectivity shows us some of their blind spots.

For starters, journalists could have started by questioning the account that created the video. The March for Life, the pro-life event held that brought the Covington Catholic students to Washington in the first place, was a long event, and the account that posted the video was anonymous. (I’m using the past tense on purpose; Twitter has since suspended the account. Now, the House and Senate are interested in investigating whoever was behind it, because they’re concerned it could be a foreign entity purposely creating divisive content.)

But journalists and pundits didn’t question the anonymous account that posted an obviously edited video.

They didn’t ask why pro-life groups, including these high school students, were subjected to “incessant racist, homophobic, and bigoted verbal abuse” from the cultish Black Israelite group.

Indeed, throughout the entirety of the video, the high school group was subjected to an onslaught of verbal sewage. But what were the journalists and pundits mad about?

MAGA hats.

Let me repeat that for those in the back: The media, when presented with racist and homophobic protestors harassing high school kids, focused on what the high schoolers were wearing.

Political science and economics professor Tim Groseclose explained the problem of media bias in America using tax cuts as an example. During the debate over former President George W. Bush’s tax cut proposals, there were two true statements made about the cuts: 1) They benefitted the wealthy, and 2) They were the most significant relief ever granted to the middle class in U.S. history.

Both statements were correct, but when you weighed coverage, the media spent much less time on the second fact.

It’s true: the kids wore MAGA hats to a March for Life rally. It’s also true that they were verbally harassed by a racist hate group the entire time. (And that’s not me defining Black Israelites as a hate group — the left’s fake arbiter of what is and isn’t a hate group, the Southern Poverty Law Center, categorically defines the group as a hate organization.)

Add to that long list of issues that the media refused to do their due diligence on, including Nathan Philips, the Native American man who marched in and initiated the entire scene while banging a drum. He has lied on multiple occasions about being a Vietnam War veteran, and he lied about everything that happened during his march up to the Covington kids.

To top things off, Phillips claimed he was defending the Black Israelites from the MAGA hat-wearing kids.

When you add all of these failures up, you don’t see a breakdown of the journalistic process as much as a lack of such a process altogether. The Covington Catholic story was too good to check and scratched the political priors of journalists, so they ran with it, echoing the infamous Stephen Glass, who made an entire career out of inventing stories and attacking conservatives.

Until and unless the media tackles their bias and objectivity problem, the #FakeNews moniker will stick. And after stories like this one, deservedly so.

And that’s not a Rorschach test conclusion. It’s just a sad reality when the media continually fails to live up to any standards.


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Daniel Vaughan

Daniel Vaughan is a columnist for the Conservative Institute and lawyer in Nashville, Tennessee. He has degrees from Middle Tennessee State University and Regent University School of Law. His work can be found on the Conservative Institute's website, or you can receive his columns and free weekly newsletter at The Beltway Outsiders. Connect with him on Twitter at @dvaughanCI.