We have previously discussed the case of former Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann who was repeatedly and falsely called a racist in an encounter with a Native American activist in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Various media organizations have apologized or settled cases with Sandmann for their unfair coverage, including CNN. However, when Sandmann spoke at the Republic National Convention, CNN’s political analyst Joe Lockhart again attacked him personally after he criticized how the media got the story wrong. CNN’s Jeff Yang also attacked the teenager and even suggested that his speech proved that he was not innocent. Fellow CNN analyst Asha Rangappa attacked former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley as yielding to a racist America for not using what Rangappa suggested was her real name as opposed to “Nikki.” It turns out that Nikki is her lawful middle name and the Hill’s Saagar Enjeti noted it is “a Punjabi name.” That however is an appeal to reason not rage which seems to have little place in our national discourse or media coverage.
The personal attacks on speakers were beyond the pale, but hardly unprecedented. What happened to Sandmann was a disgrace for the media and he had every right to speak publicly about his treatment by the media.
Sandmann is a pro-life kid who wanted to demonstrate against abortion. He sought to play a meaningful role in his political system, which is what we all have encouraged. Indeed, CNN has aired many such calls for young people to have their voices heard. He was in Washington as part of the annual “March for Life.” This is one of those voices. Sandmann spoke about his horrific experience in being labeled the aggressor in the confrontation when all he did was stand there as an activist pounded a drum in his face. Sandmann said this morning in an interview that he only learned at 3 am in the morning on the bus home that he was being labeled a racist who attacked or harassed this activist.
In addition to Lockhart, CNN opinion writer Jeff Yang said that the speech confirmed to him that he was guilty all along.
“Hey @N1ckSandmann, I watched your speech tonight at the #RNCConvention2020 with an open mind, thinking I might hear something that would convince me of your position that you were an innocent victim of a cruel media. I was disappointed, but not surprised, to hear otherwise.”
So Yang now believes Sandmann was the aggressor or the one who was at fault? Yang even criticized Sandmann for not extending a “branch of peace” to Nathan Phillip, the Native American elder in the confrontation. Sandmann did nothing wrong in front of Lincoln Memorial. He just stood there as Phillip pounded a drum in his face. Yet, Yang now believes that the media was not wrong or Sandmann innocent.
Yang previously personally attacked Pete Buttigieg for calling for a “vision shaped by the American Heartland rather than the ineffective Washington Politics.” Yang again viewed Buttigieg’s political statement as a license for personal insults: “Okay, gloves off: This is the bullshittiest quote of many bullshitty quotes from this man, whose vision was shaped by Harvard, Oxford, McKinsey & Company and a keenly honed sense of ambition. Dude, your dad was a lit professor and you went to a private prep school. Quit fronting.” Nothing on the content of Buttigieg’s point. Just a personal attack from the CNN commentator.
The Sandmann controversy arose because of the very bias that Yang reaffirmed this week. For many, the mere fact that he was wearing a MAGA hat was enough to declare him a racist. An example that we previously discussed is the interview of “Above the Law” writer Joe Patrice with Elie Mystal. In the interview, Mystal, the Executive Editor of “Above the Law”, attacked this 16 year old boy as a racist. Patrice agreed with Mystal’s objections to Sandmann wearing his “racist [MAGA] hat.” They also objected to Sandmann doing interviews trying to defend himself with Mystal deriding how this “17-year-old kid makes the George Zimmerman defense for why he was allowed to deny access to a person of color.” It was entirely false that Sandmann was denying “access to a person of color.” Yet, the interview is an example of the criticism (which continued with Lockhart) of Sandmann speaking publicly about his treatment. Mystal and Patrice compared this high school student to a man who was accused of murdering an unarmed African American kid and continued to slam him even after the true facts were disclosed.
After his remarks at the RNC (which is not an easy thing for most teenagers to do), Lockhart declared on Twitter “I’m watching tonight because it’s important. But i [sic] don’t have to watch this snot nose entitled kid from Kentucky.”
Why is this teenager “entitled”? Because he is discussing his role in a national controversy or his abuse by the media, including CNN? CNN settled with Sandmann. When did that become “entitled”? The message from these media personalities seems to be that Sandman is expected to simply stay silent and such interviews make him either a George Zimmerman wannabe or a textbook case of entitlement. Of course, media figures like Lockhart can continue to slam Sandmann, but he is . . . well . . . entitled to do so.
Nikki Haley gave one of the most polished speeches at the RNC. There is clearly much in the speech that many do not accept about racism in America. However, Haley lashed out that it is
“now fashionable to say that America is racist. That is a lie. America is not a racist country. This is personal for me. I am the proud daughter of Indian immigrants. They came to America and settled in a small Southern town. My father wore a turban. My mother wore a sari. I was a Brown girl in a Black and White world. We faced discrimination and hardship. But my parents never gave in to grievance and hate. My mom built a successful business. My dad taught 30 years at a historically black college. And the people of South Carolina chose me as their first minority and first female governor. America is a story that’s a work in progress. Now is the time to build on that progress, and make America even freer, fairer, and better for everyone.”
That speech led to an immediate personal attack from Rangappa that Haley bowed to racism by dropping her real name: “Right. Is that why you went from going by Nimrata to ‘Nikki’?” Rangappa asked.
In addition, South Asians for Biden attacked Haley and tweeted, “If America isn’t racist, why did Nimarata Haley feel compelled to change her name to ‘Nikki’? Maybe just the Republican Party is?” The group added “#PhonyNikki.” (The tweet was later withdrawn with an apology over its “tone”).
The problem is that Haley birth name is Nimrata Nikki Randhawa. She is not the first politician to use her middle name like Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, who goes by Boris. Then there is Willard Mitt Romney. Was Romney denying his roots by going with Mitt? Yet when a minority member uses her middle name, it is somehow evidence that she is a racist tool.
What is telling is that, rather than address the underlying argument on systemic racism in our society, analysts like Rangappa prefer to attack Haley personally and suggest that she is some type of shill for racism. Why? Rangappa teaches at Yale and in academia such ad hominem attacks are viewed as the very antithesis of reasoned debate. Likewise, in journalism, such attacks were once viewed as anathema, particularly when they are based on false assumptions.
There is much in these conventions to debate. In truth, I have never liked political conventions and view them all as virtually contentless. Nevertheless, there have been parts of the RNC that I have criticized, including the appearance last night of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a departure from past traditions of keeping such cabinet members out of political convention roles. Once again, such important lines of separation were obliterated by the Trump Administration, including the possible violation of the Hatch Act. The incorporation the naturalization ceremony also raises concerns over the use of such governmental functions for political purposes. I also found reformed former felon John Ponder’s remarks to be powerful, but I agree with critics that the incorporation of a pardon signing into the events at a political convention to be wrong. I have also previously criticized the use of the White House for the political convention, including for the First Lady’s speech (which I also thought was a good speech).
Those are issue worthy of debate and people of good faith can disagree on the merits. That is a lot more productive than attacking an 18-year-old kid because he had the audacity to criticize the media and support President Trump. There is, of course, a troubling entitlement evident in these stories. It is the entitlement enjoyed by media figures who feel total license to personally attack anyone who challenges their narrative or supports Trump. It is not just permitted but popular. This is why Merriam-Webster defines “entitlement” as the “belief that one is deserving of or entitled to certain privileges.”