How Nicholas Sandmann made the March for Life safer

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jan 21, 2020

Thank God for Nicholas Sandmann and for his lawyers. Thanks to them, thousands of pro-lifers will be a bit safer when they participate in the March for Life this week.

Sandmann, you will recall, is the teenager from Covington Catholic high school in Kentucky, who was the focal point of a nationwide campaign of vilification— a frightening phenomenon reminiscent of the “two-minute hate” in Orwell’s 1984— after last year’s March. The young man himself had done absolutely nothing wrong. He stood his ground, smiling a bit nervously to defuse tensions, as a leftist agitators sought a confrontation, chanting in his face. But the leftists controlled the narrative (as they always do, thanks to sympathetic friends in the mainstream media), and the Covington Catholic boys were blamed for provoking the people who had, in fact, tried unsuccessfully to provoke them.

The confrontation itself was a minor thing. But the media circus that followed was astonishing. Reporters and commentators filled the airwaves and cyberspace with demands that the Covington Catholic teens be punished. And much more. There were calls to “dox” them, to assault them, to bar them from colleges. In short the media set out to destroy the lives of these young men.

Worse, many respectable pro-life leaders, evidently intimidated by the ferocity of the media campaign, joined in the chorus of condemnation, denouncing the behavior of the Covington Catholic boys without taking the time to establish the facts. Their own bishop deserted these young men in their time of need, as did the leadership of the March for Life itself. (Later they issued new statements, acknowledging that they had spoken too soon— but falling well short of anything that I would characterize as a proper apology for their appalling betrayal.) The world turned against a handful of teenagers who had done nothing more than run afoul of the mass media.

What was the lesson to be drawn from this incident? At the time, in the early aftermath of last year’s March for Life, it seemed that the leftist agitators had won a sweeping victory. They could disrupt a pro-life rally, shifting the focus of public attention to the alleged misbehavior of the pro-lifers rather than the slaughter of unborn children. It seemed inevitable that pro-abortion activists would flood the streets of Washington this year, ready to provoke new confrontations and generate stories similar to the Covington Catholic narrative.

But then Nicholas Sandmann sued. His lawyers worked to hold media outlets accountable for defaming the young man. And earlier this month we learned that Sandmann had reached an out-of-court settlement with CNN, one of the more egregious purveyors of the false narrative. So as this year’s March begins, reporters are on notice that they cannot indulge in reckless character assassination. The leftists might still be out in force this week, doing their best to disrupt the March. But at least now the mainstream media will be aware that if they choose to promote the “two-minute hate,” that decision could prove costly.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Frodo1945 - Jan. 23, 2020 11:41 AM ET USA

    Add the Archbishop of Baltimore to that list. I can't figure out what his dog was in that fight. Why did he butt in and throw them under the bus? Go Nick.

  • Posted by: feedback - Jan. 21, 2020 10:30 PM ET USA

    The saddest thing is that a couple of Catholic Bishops in Kentucky, including the boys' own Bishop, instantly jumped on the bandwagon and joined the media mob. Thank God for Nicholas Sandmann, indeed!