Don’t Forget to Fact-Check the Media

During the weekend of Jan 19, 2019, a video went viral depicting a Kentucky teenage male and a Native American in what appeared to be a standoff. The young man was wearing a “MAGA” hat and had just returned with his classmates from a March for Life peaceful protest.

The video purported to show a young man – Nicholas Sandmann – standing with a smirk on his face, blocking the passage of Vietnam Veteran Nathan Phillips. Sandmann’s classmates appeared to be cheering him on in the background.

When the video aired I was aghast. Sandmann looked the part of a bully. He seemed to be daring the aged Native American to make a wrong move. In my mind, the smirk on his face told everything.

I felt disgust when I saw the story aired on news outlets and on social media.

But I was wrong.

I was wrong because I had been duped by the national media.

Actually, the media had duped the entire world. Not with what they showed; but with what they didn’t show.

On July 24, 2020, the New York Post announced that Sandmann had settled a $25 million civil lawsuit with CNN over the original story.  The actual amount of the settlement is unclear. As part of the settlement, CNN did not admit to any wrongdoing.

As it turned out, there was far more to the story than what the news media had originally aired. Over two hours of video had been shot at the scene. This video painted a different picture than from what the news outlets aired.

Evidence from the video shows that the event began when the Black Hebrew Israelites, a radical nationalist sect, began to taunt the students as they waited for a bus. The Black Hebrew Israelites yelled racial slurs to both the white and black students, and called them profane names. The students asked their chaperone if they could respond with their school cheers. The chaperone gave permission and the students began to cheer. Even though it was reported that they chanted “build the wall,” the phrase could not be heard on any of the video collected.

During the cheering Native American Nathan Phillips appeared. He told CNN that he had just participated in a rally when he saw “some folks … expressing their [First Amendment] rights” (the Black Hebrew Israelites). He said that the young people gathered there were “offended by their speech” and so he decided to intervene to calm things down.

Chanting, Phillips walked into the crowd of young people until he met Sandmann. Sandmann reported that he hadn’t seen Phillips approaching and didn’t know what he was trying to do until he was right in front of him. He said that Phillips had locked eyes on him and approached within inches of his face. Sandmann said he was startled, and believed that if he remained motionless and calm he would diffuse the situation. He did not speak to Phillips, make any hand gestures, but just smiled. This is the section of video that went viral.

This was a perfect scene for the media. A young Christian man with a sly smirk on his face, wearing a MAGA hat, returning from a conservative rally, and blocking the way of an aged minority man who had come to the nation’s capital to peacefully protest. It didn’t matter if it were true or not. If the story could make a sensation and fan the flames of political disgust – get it out there. It didn’t matter that Nathan Phillips had lied about being a Vietnam Veteran – just air the story. For the media, the truth just doesn’t matter any more. What matters most is to sway the thinking in America.

I’ve learned my lesson. It doesn’t matter if its a news source from the left or right. Everything must be fact-checked. They are both trying to sway my opinion. They both are trying to influence my thinking. 

Fact check everything.

Dane Cramer is a backpacker, follower-of-Jesus blogger, jail chaplain, amateur filmmakerPodcast host, and author of two books: Romancing the Trail and The Nephilim: A Monster Among Us , and has worked as an investigator for over 34 years.



Leave a Reply