Our media has become more reactionary than investigative, and this is our fault as consumers.
Following the 46th annual March for Life, Facebook feeds and YouTube homepages blew up with angry headlines and the deprecations of incensed political commentators after a 21-second clip was released showing a white, Catholic high school student wearing a Make America Great Again (MAGA) hat, smiling at a Native American activist while protesters shouted in the background.
Students from Covington Catholic High School were accused by Native American activist Nathan Phillips and other protesters of shouting racial slurs, as well as jeering, “Build the Wall,” at the minority protesters.
Outraged pundits claimed that the defiant smile on this teenager’s face is an example of the prejudice of white nationalists against minority communities.
Figures like Kathy Griffin denounced the students, and their Catholic diocese released a statement condemning their actions. Erik Abriss, a journalist for The Vulture, said of the students in a tweet: “I just want these people to die. Simple as that. Every single one of them. And their parents.”
Such a strong reaction might not be considered excessive if these students were actually guilty of the racist and bigoted crimes they were accused of. However, there’s just one problem — they are not.
A video, nearly two hours in length, shows the students standing by the Lincoln Memorial waiting for their bus, when members of the Black Hebrew Israelites begin to shout racial and anti-gay slurs and insults at the students. In response, the students begin to chant school spirit cheers. Philips then enters the fray, playing his drum, while the students stand around awkwardly and then leave to get on their bus.
Why then, when such evidence exists, was an ambiguous 21-second clip cut out and used to defame these pro-life activists? Why, for over 24 hours, did news outlets like CNN and MSNBC run segments on white nationalism, using this event as their example?
We live in a society that too often values radical opinions, calls to action and unsubstantiated rumors as the main topics for discourse in our daily life. We crave controversial content and are often indifferent towards news that has been thoroughly investigated and reliably reported.
Not many people go on Twitter to post a reaction to a non-controversial event.
Certainly, the media outlets that were more concerned about being the first to report a controversial story bear responsibility for the damage caused to the reputations of the Covington students and their families. However, by allowing media outlets to make a living off of reporting controversial hot-takes instead of rewarding thorough work with our dollars, we, the consumers, bear responsibility for the current state of the news media.
This snap judgment by members of the media has sparked a revival in the debate concerning the value of the mainstream media in American life. Conservatives see this as yet another nail in the coffin of the integrity of the media.
As students dedicated to truth, and as members of a nation that cannot exist without a functioning and honest press, we must demand nothing but the truth so that we can go forward to form opinions and arguments reflective of who we are and the world we live in.
So often we seek to blame “the media” for all of the problems in our political and societal discourse. We can no longer use that as an excuse. In order to fix the media, we must begin to hold others to the standard of truth.
Subscribe to a newspaper that works hard to bring you the truth. Refrain from viewing alluring clickbait designed to provoke an emotional response.
At a university for independent thinkers, we must remember that honesty and truth are prerequisites to proper thinking.