Falsehood flew on Friday as pundits, politicians, priests, and the press joined together to smear a group of boys from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky. They seized upon a brief video clip filmed at the National Mall, which showed a Native American activist banging a drum in the face of a teenage student, who endured the confrontation in stillness with an alternately perplexed and bemused smile on his face. The defamers framed the narrative: These teenage boys, many of whom wore hats that read, “Make America Great Again,” had surrounded the peaceful Native American elder Nathan Phillips to taunt and threaten and smirk at him.
Condemnations abounded. Covington Mayor Joe Meyer called the students “appalling.” Presidential candidate and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., praised the Native American for his “dignity and strength” in the face of the teenagers’ “hateful taunts.” CNN’s Reza Aslan asked if anyone had “ever seen a more punchable face than this kid’s.” The ostensibly conservative National Review declared, “The Covington students might as well have spit on the Cross.”
Beyond the political realm, censure poured in from on high. Fr. James Martin, a social media-savvy Catholic priest, tweeted that he was “disgusted by the contemptuous laughter of the mass of students.” Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, Bishop Roger Foys, and other members of the clergy joined Fr. Martin in his reproval. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington threatened to expel the students, whom they condemned before concluding, “The matter is being investigated.”
A healthy culture investigates before it condemns. When the truth came limping along on Sunday morning, hours of additional video footage exonerated the students, who neither instigated the confrontation nor responded in kind to Phillips’s rude provocations. In reality, the confrontation began when the Hebrew Israelites, an eccentric group of black supremacists, heckled the students as “crackers,” “f-----s,” and “incest kids.” The students responded by reciting school spirit cheers amongst themselves. As the students cheered, Phillips approached one of the teenagers, cameramen in tow, and proceeded to bang a drum mere inches from his face.
A great many adults owe the Covington boys an apology. Few have proffered one, and most have doubled down on their calumny.
A great many adults owe the Covington boys an apology. Few have proffered one, and most have doubled down on their calumny. Anne Helen Petersen, the senior culture writer for Buzzfeed, excused her libel by calling on readers to “recognize why the sight of that face caused a visceral reaction in so many.” The teenager is odious, she implies, because he is a white boy. The unrepentant Fr. Martin calls the scandal a “teachable moment.” If the incident offers any lesson at all, it is that our culture has become inverted: journalists peddle lies; officeholders vilify their constituents; clerics abandon their flocks to wolves.
In this inverted culture, pride is transformed from the essential vice into the paragon of virtue, the celebrated object of parades. Conformity is rebranded as diversity. Racial and sexual bigotry becomes tolerance. Justice, which means to get what one deserves without favor, is replaced with “social justice,” which means to receive through favoritism what one does not deserve. Objective reality is lost to the tyranny of subjective narrative, “your truth” and “my truth.”
A social media lynch mob inverted the truth of what happened at the National Mall on Friday. The Covington Catholic High School students comported themselves with exemplary restraint and maturity. The adults around them behaved like children. Unfortunately, those overgrown children control our culture, and this “teachable moment” hasn’t taught them a damned thing.