A Lesson in Media: The 2019 Indigenous March

Earlier this year in the midst of January, media users were outraged by the publicly circulated news story of a young, white boy proudly wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat from Covington Catholic High School who had just returned from the March for Life Campaign and was waiting, with a large group of peers, for his bus to arrive. It is a moment that occurred shortly afterwards, a moment captured by a short video of the MAGA hatted boy smiling while an indigenous man beat his drum and chanted in front of him. In the background, the chants of the the boy’s peers can be heard drowning out the voice of the indigenous man. All of this took place in the midst of the Indigenous Peoples March at the Lincoln Memorial.

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Outcry shortly followed. The internet seemed to implode with the story, the boy, his peers, and his school called out for their blatant act of racist disrespect. The existence of MAGA hats and the completion of the March for Life perpetrating the outrage of the “Right-Wing” disrespectful youths. Celebrities and politicians jumped on the sweeping media trend, calling out the young boy who was identified as Nick Sandmann, going as far as to report death-threats and demand retribution for the boys ‘obvious’ disrespect.

 

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According to the video, and later reports from the Indigenous man in the conflict, Nathan Phillips, a US Veteran, was trying to complete his Indigenous March when a group of kids began to chant at him. He decided to play his drum and chant back, refusing to be forced away by them. Phillips reported feeling scared, said he was completely cornered and had nowhere to go. Phillips, as well as some others, also reported that the group of schoolboys were chanting at Phillips and his fellow people, including hateful terms and racial slurs and phrases of, “Build a Wall,” according to NPR news.

Clearly, the overnight outrage that exploded towards this teenage boy, his school, and he peers is vindicated, right?

No, actually.

Because…  that wasn’t what happened at all.

Within hours of the short clip being released through media outlets (namely, the NYtimes, Cincinnati, etc), it had pushed its way into every social media platform as outcry and comments added up. Interviews were done with Nathan Phillips, and the “recollection” of what occurred at the march was spread far and wide.

Shortly after the initial clips release, though, the full video was released. Receiving much less circulation, the longer video paints a drastically altering picture than that shown by the initial short clip:

The video shows a group of Black Islamists who stand in the midst of where the Indigenous March is taking place. They are calling out to the people, telling them that their worship of the earth is why god sent the Europeans to take over their land -- this and many other offensive proclamations are made and tensions began to rise long before the Catholic boys arrived. It is when the Catholic boys arrived that things got worse.

The Black Islamists began to call out racial slurs at the Catholic boys as they stood around waiting for their bus. The slurs included terms like, “incestuous offspring,” “cracker,” and “Hicks.” The confused boys asked their teacher if they could begin chanting their school chant to drown out the verbal attack and were granted permission. As the two groups -- the Black Islamists and Catholic School Boys -- continued their tension fueled shouting, Nathan Phillips stepped into the mix.

 

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With the racial tensions Native Americans have faced, I find it unsurprising that Phillips first inclination of the situation was one that directed the anger and tension at him and his people rather than at the parties it actually was directed at. As Phillips moved into the crowd to stand up for himself and continue chanting, the short clip comes to life. One could see Phillips and Sandmann face to face in a large crowded circle as Phillips continues his chant and Sandmanns peers continue to chant their school anthem (not racial slurs or “build a wall”). Sandmann’s smile, the one so many people read as an intense insult of smug pride, Sandmann claims was him not knowing what was going on. He tried to offer an awkward smile because this man who he did not know and had done nothing against was chanting and drumming in his face. He was confused. Simple as that.

The political climate of this particular incident is solely responsible for escalating it so quickly and violently. The obvious political affiliation of the MAGA hat wearing boys, the Catholic School they were from, and the March for Life they had returned from were provocatively mentioned in every news outlet bashing the boys and their school for their actions. The desperation for validation could very well be responsible for the ignorance of the whole story and the attacks against a teenage boy that have been made since his name, school, and social media’s were made public by justice seekers on Twitter. Many celebrities had to denounce their tweets of outrage while news outlets rushed to fill in the fallacies of their previously published works on the matter. What this situation provides us with is a media catastrophe, one where ignorance perpetrated outrage that had to be quickly cleaned up and filed way once the reality of the situation came in.

 

 

Step by step analysis of all reports, all videos, and all images from the scene have been calculated by media outlets like Cincinnati, in their article, “Analysis: What the video from the incident at the Indigenous Peoples March tell us about what happened,” that show the assumed story initially released lacks most of the actual reality. This is not speculation. What the short clip shows was false. Despite this now being proven knowledge, the initial article still reached the most people due to the outrage that circulated it. The harm from the ignorance perpetrated by these news outlets has not been undone yet.

So what does this tell us? This lesson cannot be undervalued in a time where anyone can get online and publish/post anything they so desire. False news can come up from anywhere. So, perhaps, the first lesson to the viewers is to be a critical reader; fact-check, make sure, and contain your outrage until the full story is undoubtedly accounted for. However, the biggest lesson here exists for news providers. The need to get clicks, views, likes -- whatever you want to call it -- outweighs the need to fact-check, to be sure, to wait for further reference, evidence, example. The need for a story to commit such an intense outcry that it sweeps through the social awareness and gains such prominence on the limited surplus that the public can take in at a time is a goal, and this story succeeded in this goal without any considerations for the effect it would have on the people it incorrectly represented. In a time where little accountability is pressed on the deliberate circulation of false information, we the viewers need to show caution.

The story is not over yet. Nate Sandmann and his family currently plans to take the initial publishers of the story, as well as several of the tweeters of death threats to court for defamation and harassment. Sandmann has a decent case against them. Perhaps this can open eyes of the media publishers.

 

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Brookbank, Sarah. “Analysis: What the Video from the Incident at the Indigenous Peoples March Tell Us about What Happened.” Cincinnati.com, Cincinnati Enquirer, 21 Jan. 2019, www.cincinnati.com/story/news/2019/01/20/analyzing-video-incident-indigenous-peoples-march/2631412002/.

Gallucci, Nicole, and Nicole Gallucci. “Teens in MAGA Hats Spark Outrage at Indigenous Peoples March.” Mashable, Mashable, 19 Jan. 2019, mashable.com/article/teen-boys-maga-hats-crash-indifenous-people-march/#4.U3n0ngYOqI.

Jr., Cleve R. Wootson, et al. “'It Was Getting Ugly': Native American Drummer Speaks on His Encounter with MAGA-Hat-Wearing Teens.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 22 Jan. 2019, www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/01/20/it-was-getting-ugly-native-american-drummer-speaks-maga-hat-wearing-teens-who-surrounded-him/?utm_term=.d5b97c556eb4.

Williams, David, and Emanuella Grinberg. “Teen in Confrontation with Native American Elder Says He Was Trying to Defuse the Situation.” CNN, Cable News Network, 23 Jan. 2019, www.cnn.com/2019/01/19/us/teens-mock-native-elder-trnd/index.html.