The Atlantic and Julie Irwin Zimmerman are to be commended for the article in which she explores with admirable humility her reactions to the recent “confrontation” at the Lincoln memorial. I also appreciated the wider analysis by Ian Bogost on the dangers of drawing conclusions from selected or edited video clips. But I am not so pleased by either James Fallows’ original article on the matter, nor by his mealy-mouthed “regrets” and “clarifications”. What is called for in his case is a full and frank public apology to the Covington kid and his family for having violated all reasonable standards of journalistic due diligence and, with no more sense than a typical Twitterer, having contributed to the spread of an unfounded pack of vicious insinuations about the character of a sixteen year old kid.
Not that I approve of the loud and obnoxious (but nonetheless reasonably typical) juvenile behaviour that was exhibited by the student group as a whole. But the real failure there is with their chaperones and mentors, and the actual behaviour of Mr Sandmann himself was less offensive than most of his peers. It appears from the longer video that he made no move to approach or block Nathan Phillips and that when he himself was closely approached by the drumming singer he just watched and listened respectfully with an uncomfortable smile on his face which only a yellow-journalist would make a point of calling a “smirk” instead. (I can understand how Mr Phillips may have felt blocked and confined but he was not surrounded, and in fact appeared to change direction in order to approach Mr Sandmann.)
I don’t like the politics represented by his hat (if a sixteen year old can be said to have politics), nor the cause which drew him to Washington, but I feel strongly that Nick Sandmann deserves a much stronger apology from James Fallows and until I see that there will be a taint in my mind on all he writes – and on ‘The Atlantic’ for not requiring it.
And on a completely different matter – but again, I’m afraid, at the expense of Mr Fallows, I have to wonder why, out of the masses of available quotes about our tendency to enjoy jumping to the worst possible conclusion, he would choose to commemorate Martin Luther King’s birthday with one in which the colour black is used as a proxy for evil and white for good.