There was a brief moment – a small window – at the beginning of this week when it seemed possible that our media establishment might look inward and learn something useful about itself. Humiliation, as always, is the best teacher, and they were definitely humiliated.
In the space of just a few days, two separate high-profile news stories turned out to be utterly fraudulent. First, BuzzFeed announced that former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen had been coached to commit perjury by the president of the United States. The cable news caucus immediately erupted in glee — “Finally, we got him!” — until Robert Mueller’s office weighed in to point out that the story, thrilling as it sounded, wasn’t, strictly speaking, true. That was embarrassing.
Then, just 24 hours later, our entire ruling class united as one to crush a group of Catholic school boys from Kentucky, who had apparently behaved disrespectfully toward an American Indian man in Washington. A short video clip on social media appeared to tell that story. The only problem was, there were other, much longer videos of the same event, and they revealed a very different truth. The students from Covington Catholic didn’t harass anyone. In fact, they were the ones being harassed. Ouch.
Various media luminaries swiftly deleted their scolding tweets. Some even apologized for getting it wrong. Self-awareness made a rare appearance in the national press corps.
But the moment passed quickly. It’s always painful to concede your mistakes, especially the mistakes you make because you’ve allowed mindless stereotypes, rather than facts, to shape your understanding of the world. Nobody wants to do that. It’s much easier to blame others. Hence, the media did.
On Tuesday, the Washington Post ran a story that summed up the new consensus on the Covington students. Here it is: “A viral story spread. The mainstream media rushed to keep up. The Trump internet pounced.”
Got it? The real villains here aren’t the journalists who pushed for innocent kids to be expelled from school and punched in the face. The real bad guys are the people who were offended by the fake story. They’re the ones who, quote, “pounced.” That’s what bad people do in Washington Post headlines. They pounce.
So, having absolved themselves of any wrongdoing, and having recast themselves as the real victims here, the media went back on the offensive against the Covington students. One of those students, a boy called Nick Sandmann, made the mistake of going on NBC. The “Today” show’s Savannah Guthrie asked him the following questions:
“Do you feel from this experience that you owe anybody an apology? Do you see your own faults in any way?”
“Have you looked at that video and thought about how it felt from the other’s perspective? In other words, there were a lot of you, a handful of the others. Do you think they might have felt threatened by a bunch of young men kind of beating their chests?”
“Do you think if you weren’t wearing that hat, this might not have happened or it would have been different? … There’s something aggressive about standing there, standing your ground.”
“There’s something aggressive…