Finally some justice for one Covington student

Christine M. Flowers

PHILADELPHIA (Tribune News Service) — Two weeks from now, thousands of Pro Life teenagers will converge on the nation’s capital to rally in support of the unborn at the 47th annual March for Life.

Unfortunately, many people are uncomfortable with the idea that millennials would raise their voices to oppose abortion. The image of young kids standing together with signs that read “Choose Life” and “Abortion Stops a Beating Heart” can be disconcerting when you are used to hearing it’s only old white men who want to strip women of the “right to choose.”

That’s the only explanation I have for what some people did to a young Catholic student from Kentucky last year, when he and his classmates from Covington Catholic High attended the March for Life. As a bunch of them waited for their bus to pick them up, a Native American activist named Nathan Phillips approached banging his drum.

Some of the boys reacted chanting their school song while one of them, Nicholas Sandmann, stood face to face with Phillips. The boy was smiling, although many characterized his expression as a “smirk.” The screen shot of that encounter went viral, and was used to attack Sandmann as a bigoted, privileged white boy who was mocking both ethnic minorities and a woman’s “right to choose.”

Now Sandmann has finally gotten some vindication via a settlement announced this week with CNN, whom Sandmann sued for defamation — and was just one of many outlets and public figures who took shots at the teen.

One of the most offensive comments was from Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who incorrectly tweeted “The boys were protesting a woman’s right to choose & yelled ‘it’s not rape if you enjoy it.” She later deleted the tweet.

Maggie Haberman of the New York Times observed that “There are dozens of students laughing and egging on the behavior. Will be interesting to see if anyone is actually expelled, as officials suggest is possible,” creating the false impression that the Catholic high school students were the aggressors.

HBO host Bill Maher called Sandmann a word normally used to describe a man’s sexual organ.

The Washington Post came out with an initial story that falsely claimed the Covington Catholic students, some of whom were wore MAGA hats, chanted “Build that wall” without any audio or video corroboration.

Some of the worst offenders were affiliated with CNN. Bakari Sellers, a regular contributor tweeted, “(Sandmann) is a deplorable. Some ppl can also be punched in the face.” Reza Aslan, another personality who also appeared on CNN picked up the assault theme by tweeting “Honest question. Have you ever seen a more punchable face than this kid’s?” (He reportedly only deleted that tweet this past week.) Conservative commentator S.E. Cupp, who hosts a CNN show called “Unflitered,” tweeted “Teens in MAGA gear mock a Native American Vietnam vet.” She later walked that back and apologized, but the damage was done.

Because of the overwrought, under-researched comments from many in the public eye, Sandmann and his family were subjected to months of harassment. His family had to leave their house for a time, they received death threats, and he was told not to come back to school in the days immediately after the incident. Even a Kentucky Catholic diocese initially condemned Sandmann.

In response, his family filed a defamation lawsuit against numerous media outlets including CNN and the Washington Post. CNN settled for an undisclosed amount, and the Post case is ongoing.

As an attorney, I know settlements are not a legal admission of guilt. But as a human being who understands it is natural to defend yourself when you think you are right, I’m convinced CNN believed it would lose where it counts the most: the court of public opinion.

Journalists can be heard wailing these days about assaults on the press. I think it is important, though, to examine those cases where they themselves are the assailants. This is one.

Based on incomplete facts and in a desire to get the story out as quickly as possible, some very powerful media outlets defamed a young boy, and created an environment where he was threatened. I am convinced this was, in large part, because he was a young white man with pro-life beliefs.

Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. Readers may send emails to Visit Philadelphia Daily News at Distributed by Tribune Content Agency. © 2020 Philadelphia Daily News.

Tribune Wire


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(4) comments


Ms. Flowers is a Catholic culture warrior, the likes of William Barr and Philadelphia's Archbishop Chaput. Their enemies are secularization and civil laws that usurp divine or natural law-- Roe vs. Wade, same-sex marriage, LGBTQ rights, euthanasia, etc. They fight for religious liberty, the right to practice the "higher" morality dictated by their faith, increasingly perceiving it as colliding with the "lower" laws of the land. Catholic culture warriors are fanatics. All they discern is discerned through the lens of a Catholic culture warrior. This is the umpteenth piece by Ms. Flowers where her Catholic culture warrior stance is evident. That she attributes the media's and the public's outrage over the behavior of the young man to his whiteness and pro-life beliefs is ridiculous... albeit Catholic warrior-like. No one cares that he is white. No one cares about his pro-life beliefs. What they care about is that he and his chaperones failed to limit his actions that day to the pro-life demonstration (made possible by "lower" law), permitting his insolent behavior (hardly in sync with "higher" law) to take center stage. God forbid what the young man will learn and become, having collected$$$ for being insolent.

Holmes -- the real one

Well said zeitgeist. And I agree completely.

As regards her stated "Catholic" views, Ms. Flowers would have problems with the Jesus she claims that Catholics revere. But then she is much like her fellow conservatives in that. It is curious just how incompatible conservative dogma is with the recorded assertions of the biblical Jesus. He remarkably had a lot to say about such things as hypocrisy, paying taxes, helping others, "rights," humility, social values, not imposing one's beliefs on others, how to pray (amazingly not to be regimented in public or in schools), responsibility toward the environment, the appropriate attitude toward defense, treatment of workers, and a whole lot more. When you come down to it, conservatism seems mostly to be about fear and about defending and hanging on to what you feel is "yours." Jesus, on the other hand, presented a quite different approach to wealth and possessions.

Well anyway. highly indoctrinated young people tend to change their views once they experience the vicissitudes of life. I hope that will be the case for this young person.


Ms. Flowers' commentaries come to us from her residence in High Dudgeon.

Holmes -- the real one

We could begin with an examination of the smirk vs a genuine smile:

With a little study, the reader can then evaluate what is depicted for her or himself.

We humans make that false "smile" face for a number of reasons. They might want to appear friendly, they may be smirking, they may even be fearful. (During the time of the Vietnam War we learned that, in times of great fear, some people make that smile and even reflexively make a false laugh during the stress of terror.)

Christine Flowers starts her piece by inserting a little demeaning insult stating that people, ".....are used to hearing it’s only old white men who want to strip women of the “right to choose.” " In stark contrast to this obvious lie, it is clear that people are aware that views on abortion vary across the spectrum of humanity. Yes, many of the more egregious and offensive of those who oppose often come from the ranks of "old white men." That is simply because they, who will never themselves become pregnant or bear a child, accompany their "view" with a stance that seeks to regulate and dominate women. The most extreme of these insist that there is no condition (not incest, rape, severely deformed and non-viable fetus etc.) under which a woman would be allowed an abortion. Christine Flower's assertion that this is her only explanation for what happened with the media coverage of Sandmann is preposterous. The issue here is MEDIA COVERAGE. Normal people understand that, ultimately, the decision about whether or not to continue a pregnancy should be in the hands of the person whose body will carry the child.

People are subjected to this sort of deeply divided and provocative media coverage precisely because it activates knee-jerk and poorly thought out responses. That's the current version of, "If it bleeds, it leads."

We humans have available more than one system for decision making.

System 1 is a rapid, automatic, and often largely unconscious way of thinking that utilizes minimal energy and attention, but is prone to biases and systematic errors.

System 2 employs deliberation, conscious examination of the factors involved, logical reasoning, and control.

"Overwrought and under-researched" comments and actions emanate from System 1 thinking. As long as we continue to gravitate to knee-jerk about what and who we encounter we will continue to make these kind of ill-formed judgments.

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