A Tale of Two WaPo articles

In the first article, Nathan Phillips was getting ready to leave and trying to remove himself from what seemed like an escalating situation, but the teens swarmed around him and wouldn’t allow him to retreat.

‘It was getting ugly’: Native American drummer speaks on his encounter with MAGA-hat-wearing teens

Phillips, 64, said he felt threatened by the teens and that they swarmed around him as he and other activists were wrapping up the march and preparing to leave.

Phillips, who was singing the American Indian Movement song that serves as a ceremony to send the spirits home, said he noticed tensions beginning to escalate when the teens and other apparent participants from the nearby March for Life rally began taunting the dispersing indigenous crowd.

A few people in the March for Life crowd began to chant, “Build that wall, build that wall,” he said.

“It was getting ugly, and I was thinking: ‘I’ve got to find myself an exit out of this situation and finish my song at the Lincoln Memorial,’ ” Phillips recalled. “I started going that way, and that guy in the hat stood in my way, and we were at an impasse. He just blocked my way and wouldn’t allow me to retreat.”

In the second article, Phillips was concerned about escalating tensions between the teens and the black Hebrew Israelites, so he decided to walk into the mass of teens while playing his drum and singing a song. The teenage boy he stood face-to-face with (now identified as Nick Sandmann) was not refusing to let him pass, but Phillips didn’t see why he should walk around Sandmann because he was thinking of what white people have done in this country over the last several centuries.

A tribal elder and a high school junior stood face to face, and the world reacted

Phillips played a prayer song on a drum as he walked toward the students.

Some of the students began doing a “Tomahawk chop” and dancing, the video shows. Phillips said he found it offensive, but kept walking and drumming.

Most of the students moved out of his way, the video shows. But Sandmann stayed still.

Asked why he felt the need to walk into the group of students, Phillips said he was trying to reach the top of the memorial, where friends were standing. But Phillips also said he saw more than a teenage boy in front of him. He saw a long history of white oppression of Native Americans.

“Why should I go around him?” he asked. “I’m just thinking of 500 years of genocide in this country, what your people have done. You don’t even see me as a human being.”

The lengthy videos show Phillips walked into the crowd and up to Sandmann, who never approached or moved to block Phillips, said anything to Phillips, or stopped him from going anywhere. And despite Phillips describing the teens as “beasts” going after their “prey” (the black Hebrew Israelites), the 1h46m video shows the BHIs making many racist, homophobic, and aggressive comments toward the teens and others, yet the video doesn’t appear to capture any instance of the teens chanting “build a wall” or other racist phrases. Note the second Washington Post article describes the BHIs’ terrible behavior “according to the video” and the teens terrible behavior “according to [BHI] Banyamyan and another Hebrew Israelite.”

But by far the best (most ironic) part of WaPo’s coverage is this paragraph:

The incident, and the finger-pointing that followed, seemed to capture the worst of America at a moment of extreme political polarization, as discourse once again gave way to division, and people drew conclusions on social media before all the facts were known.

You mean people drew conclusions based on media accounts published before all the facts were known? Could WaPo be less self-aware?

The first round of mainstream coverage (NYT, WaPo, HuffPo, etc.) all involved interviews or at least quotes and videos with Phillips but no discussion with any of the teens involved (and no mention of the BHIs at all). It took non-journalists no time to find and review the much longer videos for full context. Now the same outlets that uncritically published headlines such as “Native American man harassed by teens speaks out” are saying “A new video shows a different side of the encounter between a Native American elder and teens in MAGA hats.” All within about a day.

Pew Research recently released a new poll finding that Republicans in particular say the news media doesn’t understand people like them. I’d say that’s a generous interpretation.

Related links:

The Media Wildly Mischaracterized That Video of Covington Catholic Students Confronting a Native American Veteran – Reason, January 20, 2019

Statement of Nick Sandmann, Covington Catholic High School junior, regarding incident at the Lincoln Memorial – CNN, January 20, 2019

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