I’m still seeing posts and memes about the students from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky when I scroll through my Twitter feed weeks after they became the subject of national headlines.
A video was taken near the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., of a confrontation between the students attending the March for Life rally and protester Nathan Phillips, a member of the Omaha Nation. In the video, the students, who vastly outnumbered Phillips, appeared to be threatening the elderly man.
The scene represented a stark juxtaposition to many, with several of the white, male students sporting Make America Great Again hats and Phillips, who served in the United States Marine Corps Reserve, clad in his traditional Native garb.
Phillips received sympathy for the situation he was so-called forced to encounter. But the truth is, we hadn’t seen the big picture — only the one short video that surfaced all over the internet.
But shortly after the initial series of reactions, a new video was plastered to our screens.
A group of Black Hebrew Israelites was involved in the encounter, shouting at the Native Americans and high school students but left out of the initial media coverage. And while Phillips and those with him were still vastly outnumbered, the newly released video suggested Phillips may have approached the Covington Catholic students.
The first video made it seem like the students, particularly Nick Sandmann, whose smug grin is in most of the images, had confronted and harassed Phillips.
“How we perceive things can be really reactionary at first before we see the full story,” said Chris Smith, a junior political science major and the president of Temple College Republicans.
Humans are undeniably reactionary. So it is vital that national media sources like CNN and Fox News ensure haste is not a substitute for accuracy. This is especially critical because the current Presidential Administration constantly questions journalistic standards.
“There’s more news sources, so everyone’s clamoring to report on the news or make the news,” said Philip Steinberg, a political science instructor at Temple University.
In this situation, news platforms pieced together a story based on a video that in hindsight provided little context of the actual situation.
Alexandra Guisinger, a political science professor, said more traditional news sources have been pressurized by modern media to publish stories more quickly.
“With the immediacy of the internet and competition from tweeting…that makes the newspapers respond this way,” Guisinger said. “I wish they would step back and see themselves as a different form.”
Two days after the original story broke, The New York Times posted a story with the headline, “Fuller Picture Emerges of Viral Video of Native American Man and Catholic Students.” Other outlets made similar adjustments.
President Donald Trump responded to the media firestorm on Jan. 22 by tweeting, “Nick Sandmann and the students of Covington have become symbols of Fake News and how evil it can be.”
It’s important for reputable sources to maintain high standards for reporting especially because news organizations are often under attack by individuals, including the President of the United States.
The media serves an important role in society. Journalists educate the public, hold leaders accountable and provide an avenue for social discourse.
But with great power comes great responsibility.
In the viral story, journalists failed to gather enough information before running with a narrative. This kind of carelessness tarnished the reputations of the Covington Catholic students. It lent credence to Trump’s disparaging claims on the media.
It allows him to characterize reporting as “fake news” even when it’s accurate.
I hope news organizations realize accuracy is more important than being the first to break a story, especially today because news travels fast.