This weekend the national media managed to embarrass themselves on a wide scale by over-dramatizing the confrontation between an Indian elder and a group of Kentucky high school students in Washington D.C. The episode was blown up to hysterical proportions, and a number of politicians, pundits, and professional harpies joined in. And who joined the fray but former Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum.
The story, as it was first reported and repeated, detailed how a group of students from the Covington Catholic High School aggressively surrounded a native American Vietnam veteran named Nathan Phillips, and loudly chanted “Build The Wall” in an overtly aggressive fashion, as he was peacefully protesting. Numerous news outlets forwarded this narrative, and as they did, Gillum weighed in.
It only seems appropriate to honor Vietnam War Veteran, NATIVE American and Omaha elder, Nathan Phillips, over those who spew hatred and ignorance. pic.twitter.com/qG2sIJTRR7
— Andrew Gillum (@AndrewGillum) January 20, 2019
The Problem? Well, there are many, in fact. First, it is unclear exactly what's to be gained by the mayor of Tallahassee commenting on an episode concerning students from Kentucky in an incident that took place in the nation’s capital. There is little political traction to be gained but as we see, there are more pitfalls in play.
As the story evolved throughout the weekend, more video of the incident began to surface, and the facts of the story -- which were un-facts -- began to rise to the fore. Our collective media titans used to be interested in collecting facts for their reports. Remember facts?
It turns out, so much of what transpired was inaccurately detailed in the press.
The first noticeable difference was the absence of the “Build The Wall” chant. Then a longer video showed the students did not “surround” Phillips, he approached their group willingly and proceeded to bang on his drum just inches away from the teens. This then set off the kids to chant and dance around mockingly. But it was apparent they never would have done so without Phillips' provocation. But the visuals were too much for reporters, and Gillum to resist.
The students had been in D.C. for the March For Life, which was held on Friday. Also, a number of them were wearing the red "Make America Great Again" hats. Given they were pro-lifers and supported the president, the press saw a juicy, ready-made story and decided to run with it -- without verification. They turned Phillips into a martyr, and he appeared on numerous interviews.
However, others began digging into the details. What they found is, the new media hero was in fact not what he claimed. His testimony to the events kept changing as more videos surfaced. They did not approach and block him, as he claimed. The students did not hurl insults at Phillips and, in fact, others who walked up with him were insulting the students.
He also was not protecting a group of blacks from the taunts of the students, which was another claim he made. “These young men were beastly and these old black individuals was their prey,” he said in dramatic fashion. Wrong. Those blacks were from the Black Hebrew Israelites, and these members were hurling invectives at the students. This also means Phillips was taking an aggressor role in the confrontation, not trying to quell an incident.
This means that the videos have shown, when it came to “those who spew hatred and ignorance,” it emanated from Nathan Phillips' side, the very man Andrew Gillum was venerating.
Said Nick Sandmann, the Covington Catholic junior in the red hat, “I did smile at one point because I wanted him to know that I was not going to become angry, intimidated or be provoked into a larger confrontation. I am a faithful Christian and practicing Catholic, and I always try to live up to the ideals my faith teaches me -- to remain respectful of others, and to take no action that would lead to conflict or violence."
And there's more.
The press seems to have been very incurious, granting Nathan all their airtime. Their adored Vietnam War vet needed media vetting, but that was left to others, who peppered social media with the truth, particularly in reply to Gillum's tweet. Soon after the TV interviews, it was discovered from his military records, Phillips never saw active duty. He served four years in the states, was caught going AWOL on THREE occasions, and was discharged as a private. So, the press is heralding a man guilty of stolen valor, while demonizing high school kids.
And Andrew Gillum jumped at the opportunity to score who-knows-what kind of political points. His tweet -- which has been resent more than 14,000 times -- remains up on his feed. Gillum uses the word “honor” for a man who tries to claim active-duty status when he in fact was busted numerous times for abandoning his duties.
Call it a lack of introspection, or the desire to present a good-guy, leader-like image of himself, but Andrew Gillum does not seem all that interested in getting the facts straight. I'd like to think he's learned a lesson from this, but as I say, his tweet is still up.
Brad Slager, a Fort Lauderdale freelance writer, wrote this story exclusively for Sunshine State News. He writes on politics and the entertainment industry and his stories appear in such publications as RedState and The Federalist.