In Covington students' controversy, media forgets to 'get it first — but first, get it right'

In Covington students' controversy, media forgets to 'get it first — but first, get it right'
“Trust, but verify,” President Ronald Reagan said during the Cold War, regarding arms negotiations with the Soviet Union. The proverb, ironically, is of Russian origin.
 
United Press International had a similar saying that was embraced by the Fourth Estate when it came to reporting: "Get it first. But first, get it right." 
 
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Based on what we've seen — again — over recent days, it's a safe bet that our media verifying before trusting or getting it right being a higher priority than getting it first ain't happening, if the coverage of the Covington High School boys' controversy is any indication. 
 
Quick review: Video at Washington’s March for Life rally appears to show the Covington students, some of them wearing "Make America Great Again" hats, taunting a Native American man attending an Indigenous People's March. Almost every media outlet, conservative, liberal or otherwise, including this one, runs with that angle of the story. 
 
New York Times: “Boys in ‘Make America Great Again’ Hats Mob Native Elder at Indigenous Peoples March" 
 
Washington Post: “The Catholic Church’s Shameful History of Native American Abuses" 
 
National Review: “The Covington Students Might as Well Have Just Spit on the Cross" 
 
National Review has since deleted the piece.
 
Yet, even worse than the headlines, were the actions of some media members who called for the kids to be punched or even killed. 
 
"I’ve truly lost the ability to articulate the hysterical rage, nausea, and heartache this makes me feel," wrote Vulture writer Erik Abriss in a since-deleted tweet. "I just want these people to die. Simple as that. Every single one of them. And their parents.”  
 
After the tweet, the publication fired Abriss.
 
Others didn't go that far but still wrote some horrific stuff that one couldn't imagine those of another generation in this business even entertaining the thought of writing: 
Watching the video and others in full, it is clear the reporting didn't match reality and unfairly targeted the students. That especially goes for Nick Sandmann, who became the focus of media attention after staring at Phillips — who approached him, not the other way around as first described — for more than two minutes in what he described as an effort to calm what could have become a violent situation. 
 
“I believed that by remaining motionless and calm, I was helping to defuse the situation,’’ Sandmann said in a statement, after receiving death threats. “I realized everyone had cameras and that perhaps a group of adults was trying to provoke a group of teenagers into a larger conflict.’’  
 
“I am being called every name in the book, including racist, and I will not stand for this mob-like character assassination of my family’s name," he said.
 
Phillips has said he thought he heard the students chanting "Build the Wall," but no such chants can be heard on the full video. 
 
As for the boys’ behavior, they were remarkably restrained despite being harassed with racist and homophobic language by a group called the Black Hebrew Israelites, who have barely been subjected to any criticism. 
 
Okay, so a few bad things were said on social media about the boys. A few bad stories written or aired about them. It'll all blow over, right? 
 
Guess again. 
 
On Tuesday, Covington High School had to be closed due to security concerns. “After meeting with local authorities, we have made the decision to cancel school and be closed on Tuesday, January 22, in order to ensure the safety of our students, faculty and staff,” principal Robert Rowe said in a written statement. “All activities on campus will be canceled for the entire day and evening. Students, parents, faculty and staff are not to be on campus for any reason.” 
 
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Much like Duke University’s lacrosse team, or fraternities at the University of Virginia, this school is permanently scarred by a media-fueled falsehood.
 
This all could have been avoided, of course, by simply verifying the original video, by getting statements from those involved, in order to “go viral” and generate clicks.
 
These kids were deemed guilty the minute they wore those red MAGA hats. And when that's the foundation for the "reporting," the result automatically goes negative — because they're already assumed to be bad people. 
 
Get it first, but get it right, first. 
 
It used to be the media’s slogan. 
 
But thanks to today’s rush to judge, combined with a rush to be first instead of accurate, it's now simply a punchline. 
 
Joe Concha (@JoeConchaTV) is a media reporter for The Hill and co-host of "WOR Tonight with Joe Concha and Lis Wiehl" weeknights on 710-WOR in New York.