Predictable outrage on repeat

Column by Michael Alcorn
Posted 1/29/19

Do you ever get the feeling that you’re being manipulated? I was thinking about this the other day, as I was contemplating the entirely predictable cycle of the story that dominated the news early …

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Predictable outrage on repeat


Do you ever get the feeling that you’re being manipulated?

I was thinking about this the other day, as I was contemplating the entirely predictable cycle of the story that dominated the news early last week. To review:

Last Friday, a video surfaced of a confrontation at the Lincoln Memorial between Nathan Phillips, a Native American elder, and a group of students from Covington Catholic School in Kentucky. The (highly edited) first read on the video showed the students getting in Mr. Phillips’ face and disrespecting him. This story goes around the world twice in one day before….

The unedited full version of the video came out on Saturday which, at the most charitably possible interpretation, brings into question the initial story of what happened. (A less charitable interpretation is that whoever started the story was outright lying). What is undisputed is that, prior to the face off with Mr. Phillips, the students from Covington had been the targets of some vile racist and homophobic slurs originating from a third group.

By about Monday, the new read on the story was that, even though the original story wasn’t accurate, the boys were still clearly in the wrong for how they handled it. And besides, that kid was wearing the wrong hat and that smirk he was wearing is so smug and screams so much of “white privilege” that he deserves whatever comes his way.

And then, of course, by the middle of the week, people had begun to look into Mr. Phillips’ story about his military service in Vietnam, and found his own narrative … wanting.

See that cycle? Invented story makes somebody look bad; invented story gets debunked; the side that put out the initial story doubles down, with a slight twist; the other side goes after one of the players in the original story in an attempt to discredit every aspect of the original story. Everybody, back to your corners.

Remember “Rathergate?” Same cycle. “60 Minutes” runs story that President George W. Bush received terrible evaluations as a member of the Air National Guard, and they had the documents to prove it; within 24 hours, the documents were demonstrated by independent analysts to be forgeries; shortly after that, we were graced with the brilliant “fake but accurate” explanation; and then the boycotts arrived and Dan Rather and his producer lost their jobs. Same thing with that “BuzzFeed” story like, what?, 5 hours before the Covington story.

It’s such a predictable cycle now that it’s quickly passing from farce to tragedy every time it happens. And what is truly disappointing is how quickly we all get sucked in to our little assumptions about just about every story.

And, it happens so often, it’s like somebody wants it that way. Maybe, maybe, so we miss real parts of the story. Like, for instance, if Mr. Phillips was there just to “diffuse a volatile situation,” then why didn’t he insert himself into the story in front of the group of men who were actually yelling foul things? And where, for the love of God, were the adults who were supposed to be taking care of these kids?

I can tell you this: Two weeks later, I have no interest in going after Mr. Phillips. He was a Marine — that is not in dispute. But there are some who do.

Likewise, there is still a fairly large contingent of people who are interested in destroying these young men. If your anger is such that you direct it at a group of 16- and 17-year olds, shouldn’t you begin to question your life choices?

Are we really so tribal now that, just to keep our worldviews intact, we have to assume the worst character and intentions of 65-year old veterans and 16-year old kids?

Will it happen again? I think so.

Don’t fall for it. Be skeptical, look at things from the other side. And, for God’s sake, try to maintain your humanity. 

“Michael Alcorn is a teacher and writer who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. His new novel, “Charon’s Blade,” is available at, on Kindle, or through” His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.


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