“Good evening, everyone. My name is Nick Sandmann, and I’m the teenager who was defamed by the media after an encounter with a group of protesters on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial last year,” said the graduate of Covington Catholic High School. As this blog has noted, several outlets relied excessively on the comments of the activist, Nathan Phillips, leaving an impression that it was Sandmann who set upon, surrounded and blocked Phillips on that day. In fact, it was Phillips who initiated the confrontation. So Sandmann — via attorneys Lin Wood and Todd McMurtry — sued CNN, The Post, the New York Times, CBS News, ABC News, NBC News/MSNBC, Rolling Stone and Gannett.
Portraying Sandmann as the aggressor carried pejorative implications: In the words of Sandmann’s suit against Rolling Stone, it essentially “accused Nicholas of behavior constituting menacing racial intimidation of Phillips, a Native American political activist, while Phillips was purportedly engaged in peaceful song and prayer at the Lincoln Memorial.”
In his RNC address, Sandmann elaborated: “The full war machine of the mainstream media revved up into attack mode,” he said. “They did so without researching the full video of the incident, without ever investigating Mr. Phillips’ motives, or without ever asking me for my side of the story. And do you know why? Because the truth was not important. Advancing their anti-Christian, anti-conservative, anti-Donald Trump narrative was all that mattered. And if advancing their narrative ruined the reputation and future of a teenager from Covington, Kentucky, well, so be it. That would teach him not to wear a MAGA hat.”
The “narrative” that media outlets were promulgating in their coverage of Sandmann is open to debate. What’s clear is that knee-jerk reactions to a narrow-frame video on Twitter drove the imperative to produce hurry-up pieces on a confrontation with zero implications for the wider world.
So Sandmann has a gripe here. Evidence thereof stems from a ruling by the federal judge in the defamation cases, William O. Bertelsman, who last October allowed the case against The Post to proceed, though only with regard to statements that Sandmann had “blocked” Phillips and “would not allow him to retreat.” The Post recently settled its case with Sandmann, as did CNN.
A legitimate beef, however, doesn’t magically summon a righteous remedy. In his RNC talk, Sandmann leaped from his experience with the media to an endorsement of President Trump. Here’s the gist in blockquotes, with our thoughts in between:
While much more must be done, I look forward to the day that the media returns to providing balanced, responsible and accountable news coverage. I know President Trump hopes for that too.
Objective news coverage is precisely what Trump does not want. One America News-style hero worship is his preferred media norm, as he has made plain again and again.
And I know you’ll agree with me when we say that no one in this country has been a victim of unfair media coverage more than President Donald Trump.
Trump drives unfair news coverage by seeding the public square with smears and falsehoods, stretching back to his work on the Obama birther myth.
In November, I believe this country must unite around a President who calls the media out and refuses to allow them to create a narrative instead of reporting the facts.
Never suggest that Trump has a relationship with facts.
I believe we must join a President who will challenge the media to return to objective journalism ...
Just what era of “objective journalism” would Sandmann like to revisit? Since 1996, Fox News, for example, has been hammering the mainstream media for alleged bias, and conservatives have been making similar claims for decades. What was this golden age?
... and together, I believe we must all embrace our first amendment rights, and not hide in fear of the media or from the tech companies or from the outrage mob, either. This is worth fighting for. This is worth voting for. And this is what Donald Trump stands for.
Yes, Trump embraces the First Amendment, but only when it protects him from the consequences of his scurrilous attacks on public figures.
Like all modern institutions, the news media is imperfect. It would do well to examine the imperatives and sensibilities that drove its pile-on coverage of some forgettable shenanigans on the Mall on some day in January 2019. One thing it cannot control, however, is how its failures filter through the public consciousness. Through incessant tweeting and baseless whining, Trump has assumed the spot of No. 1 national media critic. Sandmann’s address suggests that those who have misgivings about coverage will be inclined to join with him.
Or with whoever copies the president’s anti-media MO. Trump’s legacy, on this front, is secure.