Let’s imagine for a moment that, as some have suggested, the Russians could be behind @2020fight – the Twitter site that helped drive the false narrative of a story about American Native elder Nathan Phillips abused by the Covington Catholic School boys – because why wouldn’t the Russians do it?
Theoretically at least, social chaos is the soft underbelly of American democracy. If you can keep Americans preoccupied squabbling in the homeland, they won’t pay much attention to what is going on around the globe.
And if you can get the American media to discredit itself in the process, all the better.
Adolph Hitler understood this more than a generation ago. He managed to keep the U.S. out of World War II until the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and dragged the country into the planet’s biggest and ugliest of battles.
“Although Hitler knew little about the American media, suspecting that it was under the control of Jewish interests, he realized its importance in influencing public policy. He was particularly interested in isolationist sentiments in America, and he thought about ways and means by which Germany could reinforce the isolationists.”
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) was in the late 1930s leading a divided nation and having a bit of a time dealing with academia, much as President Donald Trump is today. (This is not meant to in any way compare the two presidents, but it is interesting to note the history.)
“I like your word ‘shrimps,'” FDR wrote to his old Harvard University history professor prior to the 1940 election. “There are too many of them in all the Colleges and Universities — male and female. I think the best thing for the moment is to call them shrimps publicly and privately.”
“Shrimps?” Doesn’t that sound awfully similar to a popular modern label? Can you say”snowflakes?”
One is a small crustacean with no brain, as Susan Dunn observed in a story in The Atlantic about the social turmoil preceding the 1940 election. The other is a fragile entity in need of a safe space because it is intellectually and emotionally incapable of handling the trials and travails of the real world.
Hitler encouraged isolationists in America – chief among them Charles Lindbergh, the son of a Progressive member of the House of Representatives from Minnesota – because a divided America was good for the Nazis.
Why would the Russians, or for that matter the Chinese or any number of others, not encourage anyone or anything that could deliver a divided America today? There is a long list of interests that would like to keep us busy squabbling with each other.
How about ISIS, which has proven itself fairly internet savvy? Why wouldn’t it engage in supporting anything that shifts American focus away from the bloody fighting in the Middle East?
Especially when the costs are so small because we’re so damn easily distracted by nonsense.
The Detroit Free Press, Phillips’ home state paper, has devoted more than a fair share of time to the Covington/Phillips nonsense and has little to show for it. Among the things you won’t find there is a good profile of Phillips, the key player in all of this.
Blame social media. Free Press editor Peter Bhatia did.
“Those of us in the so-called mainstream media know caution is always called for, and we do not presume social media posts to be true until we have verified them ourselves. In this instance, we all wish we had understood more about the origins of the furor, and the pivotal role played by the trolls Twitter has since expelled from its website, earlier in the game.”
The commentary is horribly self-serving, but worse it is inaccurate.
“The initial (Free Press) post Saturday night said that Phillips was a Vietnam vet,” Bhatia wrote. But that is not exactly what it said. This is exactly what it said:
“Phillips said he grew up in an abusive home, started working on construction and lumber jobs, and then joined the Marines, serving in the Vietnam War.”
The story has now been changed on the newspaper’s website, but you can go back in the tubes and find the original thanks to the Wayback Machine. The important words in the original story are “Phillips said.”
Either, he said it, in which case he lied and the Free Press got played, or he said something that led the reporter to draw the conclusion. If it’s the latter, the Free Press has some explaining to do.
There is video of Phillips on Facebook claiming to be a “Vietnam Vet,” and there is a CNN interview in which he claims to be a ““Vietnam-times veteran,” which is enough for the supposed fact-checking site Snopes to conclude that reports that he lied are “unproven.”
Snopes explains all that this way:
“It’s difficult to determine at this point whether Phillips has deliberately misrepresented the nature of his service, whether he has been so vague and ambiguous in many of his descriptions (unintentionally or otherwise) that misinterpretations have entered his narrative, or whether he has tried to be accurate but may have just occasionally slipped up in his many, many hours of conversation and sometimes neglected to include the qualifiers about his service that he has used in many other videos and press interviews.”
So what exactly was it “Phillips said” to the Free Press. Was it the “I’m a Vietnam vet” version of the untruth or the “Vietnam-times veteran” version? And is it worse to claim you were a Vietnam Vet when you weren’t, or to lead people to draw that conclusion with a disingenuous claim to being a “Vietnam-times vet?”
But let’s not stop this examination with a simple, factual problem that could have been solved by a reporter asking one simple question – “So what unit did you serve with in Vietnam?” – and go on to the media’s bigger role in all of this.
The media is, or once was, where people with a healthy sense of skepticism went to find the facts if they read something on social media that just didn’t sound quite right. Those days are quickly coming to an end.
Andrew Sullivan, a reporter and commentator who the Palinistas came to hate for his constantly pointing out the stupid shit former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin said, contends the problem is that the “mainstream press has been poisoned by tribalism.”
As much as I share Sullivan’s concerns about tribalism, I’m not sure but that there isn’t a bigger problem – the death of healthy skepticism among journalists.
They have become too much stenographers – “hey, that’s what he said” – and too little reporters who believe the truth matters.
So let’s go back to that Free Press story with reportorial red flags waving all over the place. Here’s the second paragraph of the story:
“On Friday, his battle gained national attention, as social media videos captured his standoff with a group of taunting Catholic school students in the nation’s capital. The video of Phillips, peacefully drumming and singing, while surrounded by a hostile crowd illustrates the nation’s political and racial tensions.”
You have to wonder if the reporter watched the video. Go watch it. The original, posted by one “KC Noland” on YouTube and viewed by almost 5 million people, can be found by clicking here. Noland, incidentally, cannot be found, and 26-year-old Kaya Taitano told her hometown newspaper, The Guam Daily Post, that she shot the video.
“Taitano took a video of the entire ordeal and posted it on her Instagram page, drawing the attention of national media,” the newspaper reported.
“‘The kids were saying, ‘Land just gets stolen. That’s just how it is.’ They’re so arrogant,'” she said. National media reported the kids were chanting, ‘Build that wall. Build that wall!'”
Several hours of video of what was going on in the plaza in front of the Lincoln Memorial have now been uncovered, and none if it contains anyone chanting “build that wall,” which doesn’t make sense anyway.
The wall is about Latin American immigration. The Washington, D.C. confrontation involved Native Americans, Black Israelites and some white Catholic kids. The wall wouldn’t keep any of them out of the country.
But let’s get back to that original Free Press story.
The headline on the story said “Native American leader of Michigan: ‘Mob mentality’ in students was ‘scary’.”
The Nolan (or Tatiano) video directly contradicts that headline. The kids are smiling, clapping and bobbing. The angriest looking person in the video is Phillips. Sixteen-year-old Nick Sandmann seems to be simply trying to maintain his composure as Phillips bangs a drum and loudly chants inches from his face.
At one point, an African-American classmate of Sandmann standing just behind and to Sandmann’s right breaks into a dance. At another point, an adult woman behind Phillips, who looks to be part of his group declares, “You guys are acting like a mob. That’s what’s going on. Fucking mob mentality. It’s awesome.”
She does look a little angry, but not at all scared. The photographer in the “Indigenous People’s March” t-shirt with the blue-and-black Keffiyeh round his neck shooting every second of the Sandmann-Phillips encounter looks a little scared, but it might just be worry about missing the perfect shot.
Phillips himself actually wanders around in the crowd pounding his drum and chanting before he focuses on Sandmann. Sandmann is one of maybe a dozen, at most, kids wearing a red, Make America Great Again (MAGA) hat.
The hats standout, but the people wearing them are a small minority in the sea of people. Phillips actually passes a less friendly looking teen in a MAGA hat to Sandmann’s right before settling on the innocent-looking Sandmann, who seems at first caught by surprise, then smiles and finally stands there clearly not knowing what to do and finally smirks as Phllips puts on his show.
Two other videos connected to this incident are also posted by Noland. One is a Phillips stand-up viewed by fewer than 77,000 people in which he looks into the camera and says:
The third Noland video catches Sandmann in passing, either before or after the face off with Phillips. In that video, Phillips marches across the plaza outside the memorial to where he stops, raises his hands in the air and shouts “Relatives, relative, relatives!” in an apparent attempt to draw a crowd.
As a people gather round, he says, “relatives, let’s make America great. Let’s do that.”
He then strides off followed by one of his entourage, asking “How do we do that?” before waving his finger around, apparently pointing at MAGA hats, and observing “not like that.”
It would seem most likely this video came after the Sandmann encounter Phillips described to the Free Press as a “moment when I realized I’ve put myself between beast and prey. These young men were beastly and these old black individuals was their prey, and I stood in between them and so they needed their pounds of flesh and they were looking at me for that.”
There is simply nothing in any of the videos to support those statements nor the claim of shouts of “Build the wall!” In fact, everything on video points away from that. There is no beastly behavior. There are no threatening faces. There is no sense of danger.
“The crowd of students, some of whom wore MAGA caps, mocked Native Americans while chanting “Build the Wall” and using derogatory language,” the Free Press reported. “The students had a ‘mob mentality’ that ‘was scary. … It was ugly, what these kids were involved. It was racism. It was hatred. It was scary.'”
Those quotes aren’t attributed to Phillips directly, but it appears they were meant to be. But there is nothing on the Indigenous People’s March video to support any of those claims, either.
Neither has anything emerged in subsequent videos to support these claims, which remains a part of the updated and partially corrected Free Press story.
“I will not take sides with the roaring voices of the right who suggest the young people did nothing wrong, nor endorse the view that the original narrative was essentially correct. To me, that still isn’t entirely clear,” Bhatia declared.
“Nor do I know if the students said ‘Build the Wall’ (as Phillips asserts) or made other potentially inflammatory statements. I didn’t hear that in anything I reviewed, but I can’t warrant it didn’t happen.”
This is the ass backwards media of today at its best. With the unproven narrative now out there, someone must provide proof that the unproven is wrong. And it is damn difficult to prove to an absolute level that something didn’t happen.
You couldn’t prove to an absolute level that there weren’t aliens hovering over the Lincoln Memorial when this incident took place. They could have all been in a cloaked Romulon spacecraft we lack the technology to detect.
And then there is the Free Press claim that Phillips was years ago “racially harassed by a group of students at Eastern Michigan University. Fox 2 Detroit reported on the incident at the time.
“Phillips said he was walking by when he noticed students dressed up as Native Americans, saying they wanted to bring back the university’s previous logo of an Native American tribe, the Hurons.
“‘I told them … that was racist and they got upset with that,’ Phillips told the Free Press. ‘One of the students threw a full can of beer at me that was unopened and hit me with it, and the police did nothing. The school did nothing.'”
Could that have happened? Of course. This country is full of racists. But what do the school and the police say? It’s a question any responsible reporter has to ask after watching the Washington, D.C. video so out of sync with Phillips’ description that you can’t help but conclude he’s not fully reliable.
About the only thing that is clearly accurate as told by Phillips to the Free Press is this: “‘We’ve got a lot of work to do’ in educating people about Native Americans and racism.”
No doubt. There are way too many people in this country who think Native Americans inferior. Some of these people are classic white supremacists, the Nazis of our day. Others are American elites who will never, no matter what they might claim, consider Natives as equals because of their belief in the intellectual inferiority of everyone outside their peer group.
If you’re a Native American reading, take heart. Those elites hold the same view of about 90 percent of the American population, if not more.
The American media, sadly, employs a disproportionate number of these smarter-than-everyone-else people. The American media is so smart it is daily losing the American public.
“Some demanded a retraction or apology,” Bahtia wrote. “I don’t believe the Free Press owes anyone an apology. We did what news organizations do.”
Well, if by the latter, he means make a mess of reporting, he’s right. But this isn’t about what new organizations do; it’s about what news organizations should do.
More importantly, it’s about what news organizations must do unless they want to do nothing but join the chorus of chattering squirrels in the forest of social media.
If that’s the case, rant and spin away. But if you want to be reliable media rather than social media, do your damn job.
“What was so depressing to me about the Covington incident was how so many liberals felt comfortable taking a random teenager and, purely because of his race and gender, projected onto him all their resentments and hatred of ‘white men’ in general,” Sullivan wrote.
“This is the abyss of hate versus hate, tribe versus tribe. This is a moment when we can look at ourselves in the mirror of social media and see what we have become. Liberal democracy is being dismantled before our eyes — by all of us.”
Unfortunately, members and former members of the American media are often leading this parade. At a time when journalism should be rising above the maelstrom to hold everyone accountable to documentable truths, it’s reveling in false narratives that echo what some journos wants to hear.
Sullivan warned that this is becoming “the orthodoxy of elite media, and it is increasingly the job of journalists to fit the facts to the narrative and to avoid any facts that undermine it.
“There’s a reason why, in the crucial battle for the legitimacy of a free press, Trump is still on the offensive. Our mainstream press has been poisoned by tribalism. My own trust in it is eroding. I’m far from the only one.”
I have to confess to the same, and it both depresses and scares the hell out of me. The day the media fully loses our trust, there will be only one entity available to fill the vacuum: government.
And there starts the road to totalitarianism.