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The Disgraceful Covington Catholic Pile-On

The daily media smearing of Donald Trump and his followers is one thing, but the readiness not just of the media but of self-righteous types from all walks of life to demonize a bunch of Kentucky high-school kids on the basis of a couple of news reports was truly breathtaking.

Presumably everyone knows the story by now. Last Friday, after attending the March for Life in Washington, D.C., several boys from Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, Kentucky, were waiting outside the Lincoln Memorial for their bus home when something happened. The early reports accused the boys, some of whom were wearing Make America Great Again caps, of encircling and harassing an elderly Native American activist and a group of African-Americans. A snippet of video seemed to confirm this account, which was based largely on the testimony of the Native American activist. Next thing you knew, media around the world were reporting on this gang of racist pro-Trump louts and accusing them of White Privilege (even though several of them are black) and famous names on both the left and right were spewing the kids with vitriol.

Then longer videos emerged, and the story turned completely around. The group of African-Americans, who turned out to belong to a racist, anti-Semitic cult, the Black Hebrew Israelites, had been screaming at the boys, calling them “crackers” and “faggots” and the products of incest, among much else. The elderly Indian turned out to be notorious left-wing mischief-maker Nathan Phillips, whose claims to be a Vietnam vet have been challenged and who in 2015 accused some Michigan college students of harassing him. Last Friday, he wasn't surrounded by the boys from Kentucky; he got up in their faces, banging a drum and chanting. Other Indians with him called the Kentucky boys interlopers on Indian territory and told them to go back to Europe.

Far from doing anything wrong, the high-school boys responded to these outrageous provocations with extraordinary restraint.

I spent much of my weekend following this story, because the savage assaults on the boys on Twitter and elsewhere struck me as supremely emblematic of the ugliness at the heart of our holier-than-thou, white-hating, male-hating, and Trump-hating establishment culture. Even if the boys had behaved in an unseemly manner, the spectacle of all these politicians, journalists, and celebrities piling on to them with such intense shows of moral indignation was far more unseemly. Especially reprehensible was the way in which so many of the boys’ critics reacted when the real truth came out. Many of them quietly removed their tweets. Others choked out extremely lame apologies.

There’s enough of this material to make a hefty book, but I’ll single out three commentators who struck me as being particularly egregious. One of them is a Jesuit named James Martin, who is an editor of America magazine and is apparently some kind of guru for left-wing Catholics (he has half a million Facebook followers). Martin ripped into the Covington boys like nobody's business. Then, when they turned out to have done nothing wrong, Martin, instead of exhibiting real humility and issuing a straightforward apology, wrote stiffly on Facebook: “I will be happy to apologize for condemning the actions of the students if it turns out that they were acting as good and moral Christians.”