Nick Sandmann

Covington Catholic update: Was that epic late-Friday Washington Post correction a good move?

Covington Catholic update: Was that epic late-Friday Washington Post correction a good move?

If you’ve ever worked as a journalist in Washington, D.C., you know that things often go crazy right about 5 p.m. on Fridays.

It’s the end of the work week. Most of the power brokers have headed for home, their home back in their home district (or state) or that special weekend home where they relax in private. They have turned off their “official” cellphones or left them at the office. Many of their gatekeepers — the folks who negotiate media contacts — have flown the coop, as well.

In newsrooms, the ranks are pretty thin, as well.

Professionals inside the Beltway knows that this dead zone is when savvy press officers put out the news that they hope doesn’t end up in the news. This tactic worked better before Twitter and the Internet.

Thus, the Washington Post posted an interesting editor’s note or correction at the end of the business day this past Friday linked to one of the biggest religion stories of the year — the March for Life drama featuring that group of boys from Covington Catholic High School, Native American drummer-activists and amped-up protesters from the Black Hebrew Israelites (click here for various GetReligion posts on this topic).

It appears that Mollie “GetReligionista emerita” Hemingway was either the first pundit or among the very first to spot this interesting Friday dead-zone PR move by the Post.

If you travel back in time, here is the lede on one of the key “Acts of Faith” pieces about this controversy:

A viral video of a group of Kentucky teens in “Make America Great Again” hats taunting a Native American veteran on Friday has heaped fuel on a long-running, intense argument among abortion opponents as to whether the close affiliation of many antiabortion leaders with President Trump since he took office has led to moral decay that harms the movement.

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Private investigators: Confused Covington Catholics didn't shout 'build the wall' or act like racists

Private investigators: Confused Covington Catholics didn't shout 'build the wall' or act like racists

Let’s face it, mass-communications researchers are going to be studying the Covington Catholic High School media meltdown (click here for GetReligion files) for years to come.

I’d still like to know why the Lincoln Memorial drama was an earth-shaking event, but attempts by Native American protest drummers to invade a Mass at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception was a “conservative” non-story. Nothing to see here. Move along.

Of course, there’s an outside shot that legal scholars may be involved in future accounts of all this, depending on how judges and, maybe, some juries feel about journalists basing wall-to-wall coverage on short, edited videos provided by activists on one side of a complex news event. In the smartphone age, do journalists have a legal obligation — in terms of making a professional attempt to check basic facts — to compare an advocacy group’s punchy, edited YouTube offering with full-length videos from others?

Before someone asks: I feel exactly the same way about covert videos (think Planned Parenthood stings) by “conservative” activists. Nobody knows anything until the full videos are available to the press.

Now we have an early Washington Post story about a a private investigation of the Covington encounter with Native American activist Nathan Phillips, as well as those angry black Hebrew Israelites. The headline is rather blunt: “Investigation finds no evidence of ‘racist or offensive statements’ by Covington Catholic students during Lincoln Memorial incident.”

Yes, I would like to know who hired the private investigators. Nevertheless, here is the overture. The key findings: No “build the wall” chants. But isolated tomahawk chops.

An investigation released Wednesday into an encounter between Covington Catholic High School students and Native American activists at the Lincoln Memorial last month largely supports the students’ accounts of the incident, which prompted immediate and widespread condemnation of the boys after a video of the encounter went viral.

A short video clip showed Nathan Phillips, playing a traditional drum, in an apparent standoff with student Nick Sandmann, who was wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat. The Diocese of Covington and Covington Catholic High School, which arranged the trip, were among those who initially condemned the boys’ actions in the video.

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Friday Five: Twitter mobs, Covington Catholic controversy, ABC journalist's faith

Friday Five: Twitter mobs, Covington Catholic controversy, ABC journalist's faith

In the age of outrage, it’s hard to escape social media mobs.

People screaming from behind smartphones and keyboards feed a seemingly endless loop of headlines like this one: “Twitter rips Savannah Guthrie for 'appalling' interview with Nicholas Sandmann on 'Today.'“

Certainly, Guthrie’s interview of the Covington Catholic High School teen at the center of this past weekend’s viral videos is fair game for criticism and debate. But isn’t there a more productive way to do that than succumbing to a clickbaity “Twitter rips” approach?

What would happen if newspapers such as USA Today stopped biting or at least insisted on doing actual interviews and quoting smart sources with strong, nuanced opinions? That used to be called journalism, right?

Speaking of a better way, over at Poynter, Tom Jones makes a fair, sensible case for why “Guthrie did her best and did well.” He notes:

When you’re getting criticized from both sides, there’s a decent chance you did a good job.

Amen.

Now, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: The villains were clear — or seemed to be — in the original stories Saturday (examples here, here and here). But by Sunday, a much more complicated pictured emerged. And days later, we’re still talking about this.

There’s still time to catch up on all the excellent analysis and commentary on this subject here at GetReligion:

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Catholic school boys Part II: Some media just can't say they're sorry

Catholic school boys Part II: Some media just can't say they're sorry

Well, the plot grows thicker.

The Make America Great Again hat-wearing Catholic students –- who were in the midst of this past weekend’s controversy told about here -- are back in Covington, Ky. However, the furor has not died down. It followed them home.

Various media continue to climb around this ant hill, digging out what they can.

The scene has shifted back to Covington, which lies across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. It took a little while for the Cincinnati Enquirer to get up to speed but they’re finally on it. We’ll start with this piece about local Catholic entities closing their doors out of fear of violence.

Covington Catholic, Covington Latin and Diocese of Covington will be closed for an undetermined period of time following the backlash after a video of students and a man from the Indigenous Peoples March in Washington D.C. went viral.

According to a statement from the Diocese of Covington, the schools and the diocese were closed to due threats of violence toward the school as well as a planned rally outside the diocese.

Now there had been a demonstration, apparently at the local diocesan headquarters (although this poorly written Enquirer story doesn’t specify the exact locale), so it’s little wonder why the locals are nervous.

Other media concentrated on Nathan Phillips, the Native American who waded into the group of boys, then made himself out to be a victim. Then videos and transcripts videos proved he was stretching the truth — at best — during his attempts to stay in the limelight.

Then Fox News interviewed a chaperone who was present during the controversial showdown. (Note to Fox: This was not on Capitol Hill; it was a mile away at the Lincoln Memorial.)

“They were singled out; I believe for the color of their skin they were targeted,” the chaperone said in part. “Nick Sandmann had the courage to look this man in the face and diffuse the situation by not reacting.”

Unfortunately, the network didn’t ask the chaperone some hard questions. For example, why were there so few adults with the teens on the steps of the Memorial, as they waited for their bus to head home. Fox also identified the Native Americans accompanying Phillips as “left wing activists.”

So the rhetoric is ramping up, not down.

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Lax news: Catholic teens, plus Native elder, plus Hebrew Israelites equals volatile video mess

Lax news: Catholic teens, plus Native elder, plus Hebrew Israelites equals volatile video mess

No doubt the religion story of the month involved a feisty aftermath of Friday’s March for Life in Washington, D.C. where a group of Catholic high school kids from Kentucky, a handful of Black Hebrew Israelite protestors and Native American activists met on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Black, Native, white: A perfect storm. What all three groups did or were alleged to have done during a two-hour period provoked a shrill media response on Saturday, resulting in a social media hatefest as local officials, their school and even their diocese immediately spoke out against the boys.

The digital attacks were so bad, the kids' Catholic school had to take down its website and Facebook page on Saturday afternoon.

Then more videos surfaced on Sunday; videos that showed some appalling insults from the Black Israelite group, aimed at the young Catholics; some tone deafness on the part of some of the Natives present and a group of clueless, often confused, teen-agers who got blamed for it all.

The end result: Sloppy reporting 1, MSM: 0. The prefect end to a horrid week for journalists.

Let’s start at the beginning. Here’s what the New York Times had on Saturday:

They were Catholic high school students who came to Washington on a field trip to rally at the March for Life.

He was a Native American veteran of the Vietnam War who was there to raise awareness at the Indigenous Peoples March.

They intersected on Friday in an unsettling encounter outside the Lincoln Memorial — a throng of cheering and jeering high school boys, predominantly white and wearing “Make America Great Again” gear, surrounding a Native American elder.

One does wonder what kids in town for a pro-life protest are doing with MAGA caps on. However, all kinds of things are sold near the National Mall.

The episode was being investigated and the students could face punishment, up to and including expulsion, their school said in a statement on Saturday afternoon.

In video footage that was shared widely on social media, one boy, wearing the red hat that has become a signature of President Trump, stood directly in front of the elder, who stared impassively ahead while playing a ceremonial drum.

What was not apparent in the first video footage was that the elder had marched into this group of kids and walked right up to the boy, who was backed up against the steps of the Memorial.

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