The Covington Kids’ Revenge, One Year Later
Almost to the day CNN paid out a notable cash settlement to Nick Sandmann, the Covington High School kid it defamed as a racist pup for grinning at a Native American whilst supporting President Trump, the network was one of a gaggle of MSM outlets out to spin the killing of an Iranian general—into another Orange Man Bad. As with Sandmann, the facts never support the heavy metal screeching, but the facts also matter little. The anti-Trump agenda rules no matter the price.
You remember about a year ago, when Sandmann and his Catholic school classmates traveled to Washington, D.C., to join the annual March for Life rally on Capitol Hill. Sandmann was photographed smiling at a Native American. With one mighty flatulent blast, outlets like CNN imagined Sandmann, wearing his MAGA cap, as the distillation of everything evil, some redneck from Kentucky a-protestin’ them abortions and rubbing his smug grin in the face of a noble Native American supposedly trying to defuse a tense situation. The Native American was also quickly (but wrongly) glorified as a Vietnam vet.
Blue Check Twitter suggested Sandmann be punched in the face, and veiled suggestions of mob action led to threats. Sandmann’s family was temporarily run out of their home. Disciplinary action included coerced apologies. Progressive media gleefully piled on. It was right out of Orwell’s 1984, the Two Minutes Hate.
But not only was everything CNN and the others said absolutely wrong (Sandmann was never an aggressor, and alongside his peers, said nothing in return to those taunting him), it wasn’t even news. Nothing really happened. Students on a field trip. But the media appointed Sandmann their racist oberfuhrer, fashioned the others into props, and had the entire white nationalist anti-Trump agenda in one handy snapshot.
Most agenda journalism victims are expected to disappear in shame. But this time it was different. Sandmann sued a range of journalists, including Maggie Haberman, Ana Navarro, and Shaun King, for slurs they threw at him on Twitter. Included in the swath of additional lawsuits by Sandmann were CNN, MSNBC’s parent company, the AP, Gannett, HuffPo, Slate, and The Washington Post. In the words of the suit, they “brought down the full force of corporate power, influence, and wealth on Nicholas by falsely attacking, vilifying, and bullying him despite the fact that he was a minor child.”
The suits charged that journalists “maintained a well-known and easily documented biased agenda against President Donald Trump and established a history of impugning individuals perceived to be supporters of the president.” They asserted that CNN and the others would have “known the statements to be untrue had they undertaken any reasonable efforts to verify their accuracy before publication.” In other words, they should have committed journalism, the finding of facts, in lieu of packaging what was actually nothing at all into a steamy piece that fit an existing agenda.
Sandmann beat CNN (the other suits are pending), which settled and paid rather than risk a trial. Assuming credibility and self-respect are worth about zero, we now know that the price tag for the agenda journalism CNN practices is reportedly $25 million. That amount is probably half of what the network spends on botox for Anderson Cooper, but as Cooper’s aestheticians are prone to say, it’s a start.
With a win in Sandmann’s pocket and as his cases against the other media outlets work their way through the courts, others also appear ready to challenge agenda journalism via the defamation laws. Ten more Covington students are now suing various media. Elsewhere, writer Peter Brimelow is suing the New York Times for labeling him an “open white nationalist.” Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who said she had an affair with Donald Trump, filed suit against Fox a month ago, claiming defamation. George Zimmerman, who killed Trayvon Martin, filed a defamation suit against HarperCollins, the Martin family lawyer’s publisher. Trump critic and Harvard prof Lawrence Lessig is suing the New York Times, accusing them of publishing “false and defamatory” information about him. Representative Devin Nunes sued CNN last month, claiming the network defamed him with false reports that he traveled to Vienna to meet with the Ukrainian prosecutor Joe Biden helped oust in 2016.
Under current law, most of those suits will fail. Going forward, how powerful a weapon defamation lawsuits might prove to be against agenda journalism will depend on how flexible the courts choose to be. Historically they have given great leeway to anyone, journalist or not, who appears to defame public figures. The idea is that if you put yourself out there, you’re expected to take a few slings and arrows and so the standards of proof are higher. This is what allows tabloids like the National Enquirer to get away with making up stories about popular figures. But defamation as a business practice was once upon a time what bottom feeders did for the shock value, not regular practice for the media of record.
The hope is that justice recognizes that a new media environment has emerged, one that drags innocent people onto the national stage unnecessarily in a way that is unethical and exploitative—and that even politicians, never mind the voters who select them, deserve factual reporting. But in the case of CNN and Nick Sandmann, it appears the network would rather pay out millions of dollars than see what a court would say.
That CNN has not made any noticeable changes in its obsessive stream of agenda journalism since the original incident a year ago, or since settling with Sandmann, suggests what they paid out is to them a reasonable price to continue to lie to the American public. Most MSM gave the settlement little or no coverage. CNN itself devoted 29 seconds to the story. Like botox, settlements are just another business expense.
If this agenda-driven journalism was limited to individual acts of defamation, such as the Sandmann case, it would be bad enough. But the MSM extend the same thinking to significant geopolitical events, using their vast resources to convince the public that Donald Trump threatens their very existence.
Remember how Trump was going to start global economic war with China, withdraw from NATO, start a wider war in Syria by bombing Russian bases, start World War III with North Korea, sell out the U.S. to get peace with North Korea, start World War III because he is Hitler, start a war over Venezuela, start a genocide of Kurds with Turkey…
The giveaway that journalism is near-singularly devoted to an agenda, frightening the public in service of somehow driving Trump from office, is how the mistakes are always wrong in same direction. Contrast the beatification of the good victims of the Parkland shooting with the Parkland kid who supports the Second Amendment—he was media-doxxed out of Harvard. Meanwhile none of the people who keep track of the lies Trump tells and who are demanding “fact checks” before ads are allowed to run on social media seem to spend any time on the other side of the equation. Who would accept a track record this bad from their doctor, lawyer, or even their nail technician (“no, seriously, cracked nails are hot this year, it was in the NYT“)? Is there any price to be paid for agenda journalism?
In a rare breath of self-examination, one New York Times columnist wrote, “Donald Trump is impulse-driven, ignorant, narcissistic and intellectually dishonest. So you’d think that those of us in the anti-Trump camp would go out of our way to show we’re not like him — that we are judicious, informed, mature and reasonable. The anti-Trump echo chamber is becoming a mirror image of Trump himself — overwrought, uncalibrated, and incapable of having an intelligent conversation.”
The Founders assigned journalism a specific role to ensure that citizens would be able to carry out informed debates. Truth, they understood, is more than an ideal; it is a perspective. Yet over the last three years, serious journalism has all but been pushed aside in a rush to do away with Trump, not by honest persuasion but by any means necessary. Fear won out, and so objectivity is now #Collusion. Seeking facts before going viral is so 2015. The media gutlessly picks on kids because they can’t get Trump. We asked for an informed citizenry and we instead got Mean Girls.
Peter Van Buren, a 24-year State Department veteran, is the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan, and Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percent.