Andrew Sullivan: You want to see hate? Why did media Twitter-verse want to punch out some kids?

Your GetReligionistas could have run nothing the past week except for news and commentary about the Covington Catholic High School teens and we still would not have looked at half of the worthy stuff that was out there.

I could run 10 think pieces today on this topic and they all would be worthy of your attention.

The bottom line: This disaster is turning into a watershed moment in media-bias studies, one that — for people of good will in the middle of American public discourse — is increasingly being seen as a parable involving more than read MAGA hats.

Then again, debates about the Covington Catholics would be snuffed out like a candle if Ruth Bader Ginsberg announced that she was retiring from the U.S. Supreme Court. At that point, screams about “loud dogma” would drown out everything else.

Back to the Covington teens. At this point, there’s no reason to read people on the far left or the far right. The ruts there have been dug pretty deep by this point.

Thus, I would urge readers who care about the mainstream press, and religion-beat news in particular, to seek out voices toward the unpredictable middle of American public discourse. For example, see the Caitlin Flanagan piece in The Atlantic that ran with this headline: “The Media Botched the Covington Catholic Story — And the damage to their credibility will be lasting.”

The must-read essay that journalists really need to ponder, however, is by Andrew Sullivan, a political and cultural commentator whose voice is hard to label — other than the fact that he is an old-school liberal on First Amendment issues. The New York magazine headline: “The Abyss of Hate Versus Hate.”


On one level, Sullivan’s piece focuses on the same question that I put at the center of this week’s “Crossroads” podcast: “Why did Covington Catholic boys instantly become the bad guys?” As opposed to what? As opposed to the Black Hebrew Israelite protesters whose verbal attacks on the Catholic teens lit the fuse on this entire media exposition.

How did elite media handle the stunning direct quotes — they’re on videotape — packed with hate that these screamers aimed at the Catholic boys? Here is one paragraph of Sullivan:

The Washington Post ran a Style section headline about “the calculated art of making people uncomfortable.” In a news story entirely about the Black Israelites, the Washington Post did not quote a single thing they had said on the tape, gave a respectful account of their theology, and only mentioned their status as a “hate group” in the 24th paragraph, and put the term in scare quotes. Vox managed to write an explainer that also did not include a single example of any of the actual insults hurled at the Covington kids. Countless near-treatises were written parsing the layers of bigotry inside a silent schoolboy’s smirk.

I apologize for the language, but here is just a small part of the acid that Sullivan quoted in his essay, just to make sure that readers grasped what happened.

Here is how the Black Israelites verbally assaulted the schoolboys: “Bring your cracker ass up here. Dirty ass crackers, your day coming. We can give a hell about your police. No one’s playing with these dusty-ass crackers.” Another: “Don’t get too close or your ass gonna get punished … You crackers are some slithery ass bastards. You better keep your distance.” And this, surveying the scene: “I see you, a bunch of incest babies … Babies made out of incest. If you’re the great damn nation, get rid of the lice on your back. … You’re a bunch of hyenas. You outnumber us but you keep your distance. You couldn’t touch us if you wanted to. You worship blasphemy.”

Then they took it up a notch: “Look at these dirty-ass crackers. You’re a bunch of future school-shooters. You crackers are crazy. You crackers have got some damn nerve …” And again: “When you guys gonna shoot up another school? You all gonna shoot up a school.” Yes, the man was accusing a bunch of schoolboys from Kentucky of wanting to murder their classmates — solely because they’re white.

Once the Israelites figured out the kids were Catholic, they offered this about what appeared to be a picture of the Pope: “This is a faggot child-molester.” … At that homophobic outburst, the kids from the Catholic school spontaneously booed.

Yes, there are moments when the Covington High School boys acted like the teen-aged boys that they are. Sullivan covers the crucial details there — in part to note how few of them are actually recorded on the tapes. He shoots down lots of myths.

But this brings us to the heart of this essay, which is the long-term impact of this train wreck on American public discourse and, in particular, the increasingly vulnerable status of the mainstream press, in the eyes of millions and millions of average Americans in the flyover country between America’s deep-blue media centers.

Sullivan nails it right here:

… (T)hey’re adolescents literally off the bus from Kentucky. I heard no slurs back. They stayed there because they were waiting for a bus, not to intimidate anyone.

To put it bluntly: They were 16-year-olds subjected to verbal racist assault by grown men; and then the kids were accused of being bigots. It just beggars belief that the same liberals who fret about “micro-aggressions” for 20-somethings were able to see 16-year-olds absorbing the worst racist garbage from religious bigots … and then express the desire to punch the kids in the face.

How did this grotesque inversion of the truth become the central narrative for what seemed to be the entire class of elite journalists on Twitter? …

Across most of the national media, led by the New York Times and the Washington Post, the narrative had been set.

There’s more. Please read it all. And, yes, there’s no way to avoid the role that clashes over religion — this all took place at the March for Life, for heaven’s sake — played in this story.

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