Covington Catholic High School students at the Lincoln Memorial claim they did nothing wrong.
Published January 21, 2019
It is said reporters write the first draft to history.
As a journalist I have come know things that were first reported as factual sometimes turn out to be completely false as stories emerge with more clarity. Sometimes what was first reported becomes gray, neither black or white, because there are so many twists to the story.
This may the case of a story that Native News Online first reported on this weekend of the encounter at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial between Nathan Phillips, an Omaha tribal citizen and elder, who drummed and sang the American Indian Movement anthem with a group of teen boys from Covington Catholic School.
On Saturday, Native News Online obtained a short video that was posted on YouTube by K.C. Noland (1:45) that shows what appears to be a group of teen boys wearing “Make America Great Again” caps at the Lincoln Memorial. In the video, Phillips appears to be mocked and heckled by the Covington students.
On Sunday, Native News Online received video that is 1 hour, 45 minutes long of the event. In the long version, there are exchanges between four African American men who are members of what has been identified as the Hebrew Israelites, who are seen and heard taunting some American Indian women in the beginning of the video. Citing biblical scriptures, the men tell the women that American Indians lost their land because God was angry because their ancestors worshipped animals and rocks.
As the video continues, the group of Covington Catholic students arrive and are taunted by the four men.
Later, Phillips arrives drumming and singing his song.
As the result of the first video being posted on social media, the national media joined in the coverage of the incident on Saturday. The coverage of the video involving the apparent disrespect of an American Indian elder much more coverage than did the fact thousands of Indigenous people marched on Washington earlier Friday to bring attention to missing and murdered Native women, environmental concerns and voter suppression.
By Sunday, there were attempts to walk back the story because of the longer video version.
Five Things to Know about the Videos:
1. The encounters between the Hebrew Israelites, Nathan Phillips and Covington Catholic students occurred after the conclusion of the formal program of the Indigenous Peoples March.
2. The Covington Catholic students, who earlier on Friday attended an annual pro-life rally in Washington, D.C., were assembling at the Lincoln Memorial to catch a bus back to Kentucky after sight-seeing in the nation’s capital.
3. Nathan Phillips says he went up the Covington Catholic students so that there would no escalation of violence between the Hebrew Israelites and students.
4. Nick Sandmann, the student seen smirking in the face of the Omaha elder released a statement on Sunday where he denies the boys were attempting to be show Phillips any disrespect. He says the students decided to raise their voices to drown out the Hebrew Israelites’ inflammatory comments.
5. Several of the boys in the group appear to be mocking Phillips during the song.
While the short version strictly highlights the segment of Phillips’ song among the Covington Catholic students, the lengthier version depicts what happens in the public arena in a country that believes and abides by freedom of the speech. And, it clearly shows a country that is divided.
Further, the two videos demonstrate how the media reporting is sometimes “gray” in its coverage – while not attempting to create so-called “fake news.”
Editor’s Note: Due to the profanity used in the long-version video, Native News Online has elected not to post it in this commentary.
Levi Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is editor of Native News Online.