Have you heard the latest news debacle? Video has surfaced of a group of white teenagers bullying a Native American U.S. vet. Or so that’s what most media organizations big and small are selling for their headlines. Definitely gets clicks and shares. Like my headline. Thing is though, I don’t make any money if you read this. I also hate the idea that Trump is right about fake news. He shouts it like Oprah giving away prizes and about things that are typically not fake. But not so in this case. I’ve had issues with news media manipulating the public before, but this instance is only proving that it is getting harder and harder to do so what with the internet and now we can all feel free to call the intent of the news into question.
Take a look at what was originally said of this incident on major news sources. The Washington Post shows four minutes of the incident and speaks specifically to Phillips the U.S. vet and several representatives of the Native American rights associations: https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/01/20/it-was-getting-ugly-native-american-drummer-speaks-maga-hat-wearing-teens-who-surrounded-him/?utm_term=.acfbde9d2669. ABC has less than two minutes of video but interviews on a more balanced level despite the click-baity title: https://abc7news.com/politics/boys-in-maga-hats-mock-indigenous-elder-in-dc-video/5097427/. The initial CNN report video shows only seconds of the footage but makes many moral judgements using tone and statements, but forces the responsibility on society as a whole, but seems almost ironic when it moves on to the idea of people promoting “going viral” considering how much news itself relies on audience attention and shares (and the fact that the video didn’t come from the teenagers themselves): https://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2019/01/19/maga-video-teens-native-american-unfiltered-vpx.cnn. Fox News obviously didn’t say much about the video until the backlash started. Yahoo News shows less than two minutes of video and then four minutes in another embedded video and had no interviews: https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/maga-hatted-teens-harass-native-182138098.html.
There is actually more than an hour of footage of this incident, including moments of a group of Black Hebrew Israelite protesters taunting the teenagers with racist and homophobic slurs, but most shockingly of all the video starts with the Black Hebrew Israelite group blaming the Native American protestors for the loss of their land on their “idol worship” and that’s just the first 30 seconds. You want to talk about offensive? That’s offensive. Why isn’t that the headline? Because it is two minority groups butting heads instead of a majority group and a minority group. While the clip everyone is showing has one kid being silent and a Native American banging a drum and singing, the beginning of the whole video includes a shouting match between a Black Hebrew Israelite protestor and what appears to be a Native American woman. “Half of understanding is listening,” says the guy that’s not listening. After eight minutes in, the man filming turns the camera on himself to spout extremely sexist comments. Then the main protestor starts asking where her husband is. He calls another woman a “culture vulture” as if telling Native Americans that them worshiping idols instead of God isn’t disrespectful of their culture. The person recording then calls who seems like the MAGA teenagers crackers and threatens to “stick [his] foot in their ass”. A chunk of the video after this is the Black Hebrew Israelites discussing religious history with a Native American man as the Indigenous Peoples’ March kicks up a bit. After a while, the main protestor starts shouting at the Native Americans again, suggesting that their march is useless, but recognizes the similarities in Native American and African-American struggles. Afterwards, they point out the teenagers again and use the N-word. Then there is a lot of political/religious preaching, followed by the reasonable question “When has America ever been great for us?” Which he then hurts his message by calling the kids peckerwoods. But he keeps promoting separation of White people from the other races as they are all oppressors to him. Then he disrespects Native American culture and religion again. A Native American man started yelling at them for not showing respect. The Black Hebrew Israelites call them the N-word, stupid, ignorant, demons, and Uncle Tomahawks and ask why the Native Americans don’t yell at the MAGA teens (who’ve been quiet thus far on the video). Then the MAGA teens come over and the man recording talks about how disrespectful they are to the Native Americans for wearing those hats at their march. A woman starts yelling at them and the Black Hebrew Israelite leader start asking about her husband and after she starts preaching love, peace, and unity, he says he’s done with her. More preaching. A man points out that they are proselytizing. More preaching. Then some anti-Semitic comments. The man recording starts pointing out the teenagers again. The boys don’t do anything. More preaching. Then homophobic comments about a pedophilic priest. Then homophobic comments about Trump and Giuliani and the Catholic Church. More Uncle Tomahawk comments about a member of the crowd, telling him he might as well put on a MAGA hat and calling him the N-word and coon. The guy filming asks them why they won’t yell at the teenagers. Then he walks up to the teenagers and calls them crackers. They still don’t do anything. The Black Hebrew Israelite leader calls them all future school shooters and the man filming calls them animals. The teenagers put some distance between themselves and the Black Hebrew Israelites. More political/religious preaching, including something about UFOs. Some guy skateboards through the area playing music, and they start threatening him with “punishment” if he gets too close and call him a clown. A woman talks to them about a prophecy. More preaching. A near fight breaks out between the skateboarder and the guy filming. The skateboarder goes off, but circles them still, and the man filming says he’s going to hit him. The leader starts talking about Bill Clinton, Haiti, and Paris. The man filming continues to point out the teenagers, that still haven’t engaged. The skateboarder’s music is still playing, as he seems to be trying to drown them out, and they keep threatening him. More preaching. A man starts shouting, but he’s really hard to understand, but they call him a five dollar Indian. A woman shouts that we love everybody. The leader shouts “We love you as much as Donald Trump loves us.” More preaching and threatening of the skateboarder. Someone asks if this is a Stand Your Ground State. More preaching. Then they call the teenagers incest babies and bastards. The teenagers start chanting, but it is not “Build the Wall”. They call the teenagers dogs and hyenas. A water bottle is on the ground between the two groups and one of the teenagers runs forward to pick it up. It is not clear where the bottle came from, if it was thrown or dropped or by whom. The teenagers then chant and focus on one of them who takes off his shit, and after that the man filming calls them cavemen. He says they are surrounded by them but you can clearly see a way without any of the teenagers that people are walking through. The teenagers keep chanting. Then we can hear Phillips coming and he stops between the two groups and continues drumming. The teenagers jump up and down in front of him, and yes, some of them are disrespectful. They chant Hey in time to the drum and clap, then it sounds like some of them sing O, but some of them are still and quiet. A couple of the teenagers engage with the Black Hebrew Israelite leader, booing him for calling them school shooters. It’s hard to see Phillips, but we can still hear his drum. Some of the teenagers say at best cheeky things to the leader at worst immature. Some White adults start making the teenagers back up. School chants ensue, one kid says they are being racist. More cracker and N-word slurs. Most of the students are standing there but are very close. The man filming calls one of them a young clansman who had said something I couldn’t understand, and the man filming appears to be holding a stick (like a broom-handle). The students appear to be about four feet at least from the protestors. One of the students says they can’t vote. More preaching and the kids are shocked by many of the things he says. One teenager says you can swear on a law book instead of the Bible, one says they don’t judge them. Some of the teenagers are laughing. An adult says Let’s go, the teenagers cheer and leave. Then the Black Hebrew Israelites start shouting at a group of Native Americans. More homophobic comments. A woman comes up and says We love you. He asks for his land back. A White man says that Black Africans sold others into slavery. After more stuff about religion and child molestation, a woman says “You’re not going to change their minds.” At this point it is clear that nothing will stop these protestors from shouting down the people around them, using racist, sexist, homophobic, and disrespectful comments. This is so hard to watch. It is so hard to sit and listen to everything these two men say. I did it though. I watched the whole thing, and I know it is hard to watch anything longer than five minutes these days, but it is worth our attention, so here you go: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQyBHTTqb38. I won’t say enjoy, because I didn’t find anything about this enjoyable.
I want to say that I don’t understand why the headline is about the teenagers. I want to say that I don’t get it. But I do understand. It is about an agenda of divisiveness that increases viewership. It’s about clicks.
Assault, Harassment, and Defamation
Because of how the media has presented the events of the quick bit of video they show, the main teenager in the video and his family have gotten death threats, he is facing expulsion from school, and is one of the most hated figures of social media right now. It’s no wonder that he came out with a version of events from his perspective, even if it laden with rhetoric to make himself out to be the victim. To be honest with you, considering that he and the other students are underage, I don’t believe the video should even be shown with them in it with their faces clearly identifiable. Other countries do this, and it’s high time we did, but minors should not be part of the media circus. To me, it prevents mob mentality from judging minors for life, in the same way we protect them from the stupid, inexperienced criminal choices of their youth by sealing juvenile records. Not everything is protected as if they are charged as adults, then it sticks. But I certainly don’t think any of these teenagers committed the kind of felonies in the video that would mean we never let them forget it. But the media has decided to vilify these teenagers. And if some of them did see the whole video before reporting, they decided to hold minors to higher standards than adults.
I don’t agree with why the teenagers were there, I don’t agree with their support of Trump, but they are still young and people change quite a bit in their early to mid twenties from who they were as teenagers. I also believe they have the right to march in a rally that I don’t believe in. They have the right to buy hats I don’t like. We can’t assume they deserved to be vilified simply because of those hats, as some people vilify women for wearing low cut necklines or LBGT people for wearing rainbow hats and shirts nor do we accept them being harassed by others. But apparently we’re supposed to okay with a minority group heckling Native Americans. Those two men also had the right to be there and they also had the right to say what they did. I don’t have to like it, and I don’t, but they still had the right. Everyone had the right to be there. There were some near assaults when people started to get into each other’s personal space, and only if people followed someone around and said horrible things to them repeatedly would it be considered harassment. The event itself was fine. Uncomfortable. But legal and fine. As Trevor Noah put it “All First Amendment and no Second Amendment.” It was fine.
What isn’t fine is how the major media networks decided to reframe this video to rabble rouse and sow division. As if things aren’t bad enough. And after everyone found the long video, many people were upset at having been misled, and now the pendulum is swinging the other way. Those on the extreme right feel vindicated and able to character assassinate Phillips, as if that’s okay too. It’s really not. I’m a huge opponent of ad hominem. I don’t believe it promotes empathy, trust, or the seeking out of the truth. Very rarely do I see a purpose in condemnations of others unless a true argument with evidence to support claims is given as well.
People who are typically in the middle, like me, see this news debacle as disheartening. For me, it is just more of the same. I’m unsurprised by their decision to manipulate their audience, but this has given a lot of people something to think about. A lot people, despite Trump shouting fake news, trusted the major news networks to give them unbiased information, but now they feel lied to or misled. They may even look back at previous reports on political and social topics and wonder. My hope is that more people will start digging deeper as a result, which is now easier to do with the internet.
A lot of the old guard think that the internet actually makes it harder to know what is real and fake, but a person just has to be discerning in their sources. It also one of the only places Americans can get international news as while interest hasn’t dropped, reporting from the major networks has (source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Ly7Btx0Stg). There is still some left push back, people saying that the teenagers deserve what they get both in the video and by way of punishment and harassment since they were wearing MAGA hats and were there for a Pro-Life rally, but as I said before, they have a right to believe what they believe, wear what they want to wear, and protest what they want to protest. I don’t have to like it or agree with them, but they have the right, just like anyone else. That is what America is about. Even if it isn’t always pretty.
But some of the networks are defending what they did as it is not always easy to get the whole picture before you have to publish, and that’s a load of bullshit. We now have 24 hour news cycle, but I suggest if they can’t do it ethically and competently in the amount of time they are giving themselves, that they need to slow down. It’s their job to fact check. You don’t win anyone over by whining about how hard it is to do your job. They’re more afraid that someone will report the story before them that they are all jumping the gun than they are of getting the story wrong, but look at what it has gotten them. If they hadn’t jumped the gun, if they had done their due diligence, they could have reported on the video accurately and looked like the good guys. Now they just look like assholes. It is shameful that they have misstepped so badly as to allow extremist right shouting of Fake News to be credible.
Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right
Oh, but Fox News does it! Yeah, and they’re wrong when they do it too. You can’t control what someone else does, only what you do. CNN is not responsible for what Fox News says, but they are responsible for what they say. You can’t hold yourself to the standards and principles of those you don’t like or find unethical. You can’t think of it as winning or losing. Disseminating information is not a game. It is about ethics, the truth, and honesty. That’s what you hold yourself to. I can’t believe that I have to pull out an adage meant for five year olds to talk about major news networks comprised entirely of adults. That’s the kind of immaturity that exists in that industry. I understand that there is a competition for viewership, but there should not be a competition for hearts and minds. The news should be objective, despite the flashlight theory–it should at least strive to be as objective as possible. The point of the news is to provide the people with information, not to sway them politically or socially. That’s the job of politicians and activists. The real problem is the death of local news and coalescing of news, especially in major print and TV services, to a few sources. A few people get to decide that the truth is less important than a political or social goal, even if people are trampled by their manipulations. But the news is sold to us as an informational source, not a persuasive argument. So we have a mockery of that idea in all the major networks. They may claim to be news sources, but really that is a mask they wear to put forth a perspective subversively. It seems that yellow journalism rules the day. Left, right, I don’t care. I don’t want my news littered with rhetoric designed to manipulate me. And neither should anyone else.
Why This Is So Bad
But this debacle is going to have long term consequences. I can foresee in 2020 any “outrageous” things being held in suspicion. I foresee that if Trump does run that swing vote people will go for him because they won’t trust sources like CNN and ABC who will be pushing for a democrat winner. They already had a hand in Trump winning in 2016 (https://empatheticwriter.wordpress.com/2017/04/07/a-lack-of-respect-the-path-to-a-trump-presidency/). I know this sounds like conspiracy theory, but at this point too many people believe that left leaning news networks are not worth trusting and we can’t pretend that they’ll get over it. I figured out all news networks were trying to manipulate me a long time ago. Teaching rhetorical analysis gave me the edge needed to recognize it, and since I am a Centrist I did not ignore it from any source because no source was telling me what I wanted to hear. I don’t buy into the narrative that one side is evil and one side is good. I believe most politicians are in it to win it, no matter what, and are willing to promise anything to get a vote. So when any news source promotes one candidate over the other, and it’s not an Op Ed, but the kind of subtle jabs at one candidate and subversive advancement of another while “reporting” on debates or campaign appearances, I’m just pissed. And I think it is safe to say that more people are pissed at them after this incident then before, and I think they will remember, mostly because the right is not going to let it go. So great job, any left leaning media, you’ve shot yourself in the foot.