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So: On the afternoon of January 19, 2019, something happened that happens literally every day in the nation's capital: Some high school students visited the Lincoln Memorial, some demonstrators demonstrated, some clumps of strangers interacted with other clumps of strangers, different people wore different costumes. None of it was particularly newsworthy.
And yet that soon became about all the media was talking about. Why? Because a snippet of video was posted to YouTube showing a pale-faced Covington Catholic high school kid in a MAGA hat standing impassively with an occasional smile just inches away from an elderly Native American veteran playing a drum. Covers thus established, books were then judged.
"Video Of Kentucky Students Mocking Native American Man Draws Outcry," went the headline at National Public Radio. "The students' display of blatant hate, disrespect, and intolerance is a signal of how common decency has decayed under this administration," tweeted Rep. Deb Haaland (D–N.M.). Added the ever-helpful Howard Dean: "#CovingtonCatholic High School seems like a hate factory to me. Why not just close it?"
editoWith the whole media world consumed with the symbolism of the Lincoln Memorial exchange, Reason Senior Editor Robby Soave did something that apparently did not occur to 99 percent of the journalists talking about it: Namely, journalism.
The video that went viral was less than four minutes long, but there were nearly two hours of publicly available footage. Soave—lean in close, journalism students!—actually watched all the contextual video. Result? A full 24 hours after some no-name kid and his high school were widely derided as irretrievable racists, Soave concluded: "The Media Wildly Mischaracterized That Video of Covington Catholic Students Confronting a Native American Veteran." Excerpt:
Far from engaging in racially motivated harassment, the group of mostly white, MAGA-hat-wearing male teenagers remained relatively calm and restrained despite being subjected to incessant racist, homophobic, and bigoted verbal abuse by members of the bizarre religious sect Black Hebrew Israelites, who were lurking nearby. […]
Phillips put himself between the teens and the black nationalists, chanting and drumming as he marched straight into the middle of the group of young people. What followed was several minutes of confusion: The teens couldn't quite decide whether Phillips was on their side or not, but tentatively joined in his chanting. It's not at all clear this was intended as an act of mockery rather than solidarity. […]
It bears repeating that Phillips approached him, not the other way around.
And that's all there is to it. Phillips walked away after several minutes, the Black Hebrew Israelites continued to insult the crowd, and nothing else happened.
You can judge for yourself.
Was that so hard? Apparently. Even after the exculpatory evidence had been widely circulated by Soave and others, far too many journalists—including the editor in chief of Mother Jones—just kept doubling down.
Soave's original post drew a staggering 1.5 million page views, was cited in The Washington Post, was tweeted out by CNN's Jake Tapper, and was credited by television hosts Meghan McCain and Greg Gutfeld for changing their initial impressions of the incident. (Soave was also, to be sure, roundly criticized and even psychoanalyzed for his troubles.) This was an example, in the words of John Stossel, of how independent journalists are beating the mainstream media.
Future historians will likely look back at the Covington Kerfuffle as an encapsulation of our era of political polarization, social media controversy, and inflammatory racial discourse. But I would like to highlight it here as a primo example of why you should donate to Reason right the hell today. Not because we side ever and always with the MAGA-hat-wearers in this universe—indeed, Soave and others criticized Covington student Nick Sandmann's libel lawsuit against The Washington Post. But rather, in an era when high-toned journalism outlets increasingly evacuate the field of fact-verification for the lurid spectacle of professional partisan wrestling, Reason specializes in corrective, well, journalism. When they go hot-take, we go cold.
Let's look at some media panics that Reason was quick off the draw this year in expressing skepticism about, or just flat-out debunking. The international human-trafficking ring at a Florida massage parlor frequented by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. The deadly scourge of "The Momo Challenge." The mass burn-off of the Amazon rainforest. Trump rallies increasing hate crimes by 226 percent. Kids growing horns because of smartphones. The call by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D–Minn.) to construct a surveillance state against white people. The MAGA-inspired hate-violence against actor Jussie Smollett. We do this work every damn day.
As long as there are alluring narratives, confirmation biases, and lazy journalists, there'll be a need for Reason's fact-based counter-programming. Which is to say, every day, we need Reason just a little bit more.
Won't you please donate to Reason right the hell now?