Students from Covington Catholic School in Kentucky went to the March for Life, advocating for the most defenseless among us — the unborn. When they left Washington, it was those students who felt defenseless after a barrage of inaccurate reporting in the mainstream media and attacks on social media hit them like a ton of bricks.
A viral video showed one of the students, Nicholas Sandmann, and Nathan Phillips, an activist for indigenous people’s causes, confronting each other. The video showed Phillips beating a drum while Sandmann stood there with his group. At one moment, Sandmann smiled. Someone took that picture. And in that moment, everything changed.
Sandmann, wearing a Make America Great Again hat, the phrase coined by President Donald Trump, was then thrust into the national spotlight with headlines and stories accusing him and his group of harassing Phillips and intimidating him. Social media, headlines, and TV anchors went on the attack, and it was brutal and, in many ways, disgusting. The bigger problem? The story that was originally portrayed wasn’t true. Another video surfaced later that painted a much different story.
Sandmann and his group didn’t intimidate. Instead, it was another group, a group of black Hebrew Israelites who were using profanity and highly divisive and provocative language at both the Covington students and the Native Americans. That’s what led Phillips to approach Sandmann and the students, saying he was trying to defuse the tension. That’s what then led to the infamous moment between Sandmann and Phillips.
And that smile — the picture that originally portrayed him as racist? Sandmann says that it was his attempt to show he was not about violence.
The bottom line? The original story was wrong and one person’s life is now upside down (Sandmann has received death threats), the school closed its doors over safety concerns, and the Covington community is on edge.
Increasingly, social media — a tool to keep us informed and connected — is only doing the opposite, reporting inaccurate stories while dividing us and drumming up hateful and violent opinions from people who should know better.
There are so many lessons in this story. The initial story that went wild, never included the side of the students. Instead, everyone pounced, judging them immediately.
Facts matter. Context matters. Jumping to conclusions and joining the social media frenzy by spewing hateful and violent tweets over something, especially a story that isn’t true, only brings our culture down.
There is no question something like this will happen again. Staying above the fray — waiting for the facts to emerge — that is the prudent thing to do. That is being wise. Remember, there are two sides to every story.
Truth is a rare commodity these days. This story is reminder for all of us to seek it.