After several media outlets walked back their reporting on Covington Catholic high school students' interaction with a Native American man during the March for Life, a New York publication attempted to smear the students by accusing them of wearing blackface.
The New York Daily News published an article on Monday that included a photo "said to be featuring Covington Catholic High School students clad in blackface during a 2015 basketball game." They included a tweet from Marcus Henry Weber, a "Cannabis industry, film production professional, citizen journalist" who said the students in blackface were verbally abusing the black players on the opposing team.
They went on to report that the "photo’s origins couldn't be verified," but later added that the "official Covington Catholic High School YouTube account published a video last January boasting its basketball school spirit, and several clips, including one from 2012, showcase attendees chanting in black face."
Covington Catholic alum Ryan Toler pushed back on the characterization from the Daily News, saying he was shown in the background of one of the images in the article. He added, "ITS CALLED A BLACKOUT THEME. WE HAD SCHOOL SPIRIT. WE DO THIS TO EVERY SCHOOL NO MATTER THE RACE OR ETHNICITY. Stop trying to force a fake story to drive your false narrative."
Lmaoooo. I was at this game SEVEN YEARS AGO. SEVEN! I’m shown in the background of this image. ITS CALLED A BLACKOUT THEME. WE HAD SCHOOL SPIRIT. WE DO THIS TO EVERY SCHOOL NO MATTER THE RACE OR ETHNICITY. Stop trying to force a fake story to drive your false narrative. https://t.co/9CRZZFxpeW
— Ryan Toler (@ryantoler_) January 22, 2019
"The black body paint is part of a ‘blackout' game, in which students paint themselves in the school's colors," the Daily News said. "This isn't an uncommon practice, but it is one that has become increasingly frowned upon as minority groups have spoken up about the obvious racist connotations."
The narrative from the Daily News follows the media backtracking on its initial narrative that the Catholic high school students were surrounding the Native American elder, Nathan Phillips, with a "mob mentality." It was initially reported that they were racists for chanting, "Build the wall," the Washington Free Beacon reported.
The initial picture was soon contradicted, but backlash against the Donald Trump-supporting students ensued. The false reporting and the outrage it generated forced local officials to close their school. "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," the school's principal wrote in a letter shared with CBS affiliate WKRC. "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. Please continue to keep the Covington Catholic Community in your prayers."
Soon after the initial reports, eyewitness accounts and longer footage became available, which contradicted the conclusions many had drawn about the incident. A full account showed the Native American elder approach the students, who chanted along with the elder. In the video, Black Hebrew Israelites throw slurs at the students, who do not respond in kind.
Gradually, media organizations began correcting their false reports. Some did not. As of press time, the New York Times had not deleted its false tweet.