Op-Ed: I Stood Up for My Alma Mater, Now Something Must Change
We have officially reached a turning point in the current frenzied media environment. The rush to judgment over the media-created debacle surrounding Covington Catholic High School has led to life-altering consequences for the school and community I know and love.
Unfortunately, our nation has left behind the unifying principles that great leaders once championed. As a state representative from Northern Kentucky who represents many of the families connected to Covington Catholic, it disturbs me greatly to see a group of young men repeatedly harassed, denigrated, and threatened.
The race to opine about the shortcomings of a group of kids may have won some likes on social media, but it came with steep consequences for my alma mater. Covington Catholic, and the community at large, have suffered from numerous smears and vicious threats ever since the now infamous video went viral. Kids who aren’t even old enough to drive became victims of the social media rush to promote stereotypical narratives of left against right, rich against poor, and more.
Words like bullying, intimidation, and even racism were thrown around on Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, because a premature and incomplete video appeared to show teenagers in hats berating and harassing a Native American man.
Of course, that narrative began to crack as the truth came out. Longer versions of the video showed an entirely different version of events. In fact, the new footage makes clear that the mob-like behavior came from a third group, an extremist organization who hurled vicious insults at the Covington Catholic student. The trouble actually started with these adult protesters seemingly seeking out kids as not only an audience, but their targets.
There are many lessons for America to learn. This whole incident should lead to moments of reflection in our country. Why do people say horrible things on social media to people they don’t even know – and leave voicemails that make complete strangers cringe? And what happened to the journalist integrity – including rigorous fact checking and examining all sides – that existed not too long ago?
There was a time when Americans of all different colors and creeds were capable of putting their differences aside and uniting behind a common cause. Less than two decades ago, our country stood together after the tragedy of 9/11. Inspirational leaders like Ronald Reagan and Abraham Lincoln called on us to do better, and to rise toward our better angels.
But now, the era of digital media and the rush to create headlines has created a dangerous and divisive environment, even for our children. The young man at the center of this controversy even revealed on national television that he and his family were the target of death threats. Covington Catholic was forced to close school in light of harassment and threats as national media outlets descended on the community. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was as much outrage towards those who issue death threats and attempt to dox strangers?
What started as a trip to celebrate the sanctity of life in our nation’s capital has indelibly altered the lives of not only these young men, but also our nation. Sadly, modern communications tools have in many ways become weapons of civil destruction, ruining lives and relationships at a rapid pace. While the methods of communication may change, human decency should not. The rush to make waves should never replace compassion for others – especially for kids who are trying to chart their course in life. These modern communications tools should be used to model correct behavior. I don’t claim to be perfect in this sphere, but we should all strive every day to be better versions of ourselves, and the day to begin that is today.
If experience is the best educator, maybe this time we will learn that truth is more important than sensational headlines. For the sake of our country, and Covington Catholic, let us hope that this is a teachable moment.
Written by Rep. Adam Koenig (R-Erlanger)
Photo via Legislative Research Council