At a few days’ remove from the Covington Catholic High School incident at the Lincoln Memorial, we can be reasonably sure there will be no apologies or corrections forthcoming from the major media outlets that rushed to vilify the students involved. The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, and dozens of lesser news organizations that condemned the high schoolers from Kentucky have not retracted or walked back their initial, warped narrative: that racist white teens harassed an elderly Native American man.
Nor will there be any public contrition from many individual members of the media who were in the vanguard of the online mob. CNN’s Reza Aslan tweeted an image of one of the boys and asked, “Have you ever seen a more punchable face than this kid’s?” Filmmaker Michael Green tweeted the same image with the comment, “A face like that never changes. This image will define his life. No one need ever forgive him.”
Despite additional video footage that largely exonerated the students, neither of those public figures have deleted their tweets or apologized. Same for James Fallows at The Atlantic, who initially compared the high schoolers to Arkansas segregationists in the 1950s then doubled down, noting that because the kids were white and wearing “Make America Great Again” hats, they must be guilty.
Although some journalists have recanted at length, and others have apologized and deleted their early, emotionally charged reactions, plenty of others have not and will not. They believe that whatever the video footage actually reveals about the incident— specifically, that the elderly Native American man, Nathan Phillips, approached the kids and initiated a confrontation after they had been harassed by a bizarre racist group called the Black Hebrew Israelites—is irrelevant to what they say is the larger point: that “privileged” white teenage boys who wear MAGA hats are racist bigots and deserve no mercy.
The Covington kids are certainly getting none. They and their families have been doxxed, harassed, and threatened for days on end. On Tuesday, Covington Catholic High School was closed over security concerns.
Why the Covington Kids Were Deemed Guilty
It’s hard not to see the parallels here to the Brett Kavanaugh affair, the Rolling Stone-UVA rape hoax, and the Duke Lacrosse scandal. In all these cases, the rush to judgement hinged on the race and perceived privilege of the accused. They were guilty not based on the facts of what happened, they were guilty because of who they were: supposedly privileged white males.
The Covington high schoolers were in this sense the perfect villain for the social justice outrage mob. Not only were they mostly white, male, and Catholic, the entire reason they were in Washington was to attend the annual March for Life. As noted cultural commentator Alyssa Milano put it, “Let’s not forget—this entire event happened because a group of boys went on a school-sanctioned trip to protest against a woman’s right to her own body and reproductive healthcare. It is not debatable that bigotry was at play from the start.”
Milano is right that bigotry was at play from the start, but not quite in the way she means. The manifest, unquestionable bigotry at play is that of media figures and celebrities whose unfiltered contempt and rage bubbled up and spewed forth the instant they saw a smirking white kid in a MAGA hat face-to-face with an old Native American man.
Bigotry is what now animates the unrepentant members of the media like Deadspin’s Laura Wagner, who describes the “visibly aggressive teens” as “draped in racist, misogynist paraphernalia.” Bigotry is what’s behind comments like those of Mollie O’Reilly of Commonweal magazine, who declared, “You don’t let your kid wear a MAGA hat and then act offended when they get taken for a racist.”
These are not the thoughts and feelings of people who want to share a republic and live in peace with their political opponents. If opposing abortion or supporting the president marks you out as a bigot and a racist, then civic comity is impossible, there is nothing left to say, no way to compromise or live and let live. The only thing that’s possible is a zero-sum contest of brute strength. The only thing left to do is silence or destroy your enemy.
The Left Is Not Interested In Sharing a Country
This is the meaning behind another recent social justice pile-on that has received much less news coverage. Karen Pence, wife of Vice President Mike Pence, was denounced last week as the embodiment of hate and intolerance for having the temerity to teach art part-time at a small Christian academy in Northern Virginia called Immanuel Christian School. Pence’s crime is that the K-8 academy’s employment contract contains a provision asserting that marriage is between one man and one woman, “a single, exclusive covenant union as delineated in Scripture.”
The existence of an unremarkable contract that affirms what all orthodox Christians believe was first reported as news by HuffPo. It quickly had the desired effect. CNN’s John King wondered aloud whether the second lady should continue to receive Secret Service protection. Lady Gaga interrupted a set in Las Vegas to aver that the Pences are the “worst representation of what it means to be a Christian.” The Washington Post found a professor to tut-tut about how Immanuel Christian School embraces creationism and therefore can’t lay claim to orthodox beliefs about marriage: “They cannot have their orthodoxy and eat it, too.”
Here we get to the heart of the Covington affair. For the social justice left, including many mainstream media figures, holding conservative views on abortion or marriage automatically makes you a bigot. Even apart from any views you espouse, simply wearing a MAGA hat makes you a bigot. And being a white male, together with any of the above, makes you the worst of bigots.
And you don’t apologize to bigots. You destroy them.