The Detroit Free Press's alternative facts about Nathan Phillips

Much of this past weekend's brouhaha about Covington High School students' alleged racial crimes was based on the reporting (sic) of the Detroit Free Press's Niraj Warikoo, who published an article on Sunday based on his interview with Phillips.  Warikoo appears to have based his entire article, "Native American leader of Michigan: 'Mob mentality' in students was 'scary,'" on the version of unchecked statements provided by Phillips, reporting as truth that the incident "illustrates the nation's political and racial tensions."  As suggested by the Freep's headline, Phillips claims he witnessed a "hostile" crowd of 100 high school boys in the "process of attacking" four black men when he instinctively interposed himself between the two groups to make peace.  Surrounded by this "mob" of "beastly" young men in whose faces he recognized the familiar leer of American lynch mobs, he knew they had turned their wrath on him.  While they screamed, "Build the wall!" (and wore MAGA hats!), Phillips knew he was in the maw of something "ugly," "racist," "hateful," and "scary."  

Anyway, we all know what happened with that story: after scores of media people, including many conservatives, covered themselves in shame by consigning these kids to the depths of Hell, additional video footage came out; Phillips was exposed as a liar; and some, but not all, of the media either admitted they'd screwed up or quietly set about sanitizing their publications and social media comments.

But not the Free Press.  In Warikoo's follow-up piece on Tuesday, "Native American activist offers to meet Covington Catholic students," the reporter never mentions how badly he got the facts wrong.  What he does do, without explanation, is downgrade the prior reported ugly, racist, hateful, scary, hostile mob-like "attack" to an "encounter" between the high school kids and the American Indian activist.  Now, instead of Phillips being an elderly tribal leader being mobbed by 100 crazed and hostile high school students with lynching on their mind, the worst thing Phillips specifically accuses them of is that about "half" of the kids were making a "tomahawk chop" motion that, Warikoo writes, "is often seen at sporting events, and is considered offensive." 

It's true – it is considered offensive, especially by a "Native American activist," and if any of the kids did that to mock Phillips, it was tacky.  But we're measuring a few immature high school kids doing a tomahawk chop against the attempted lynching they were being utterly condemned for two days before.  Beyond that, and probably because Phillips knows that the video doesn't show anything like the hostile attack he'd described before, he was quoted on Monday saying, "Unfortunately, much of the students' behavior was understood by me and those with me as a mockery of our cultures."  In other words, you can't see on the video that what these kids did that was wrong, but trust me: I and my companions can see it.

So because a few kids may have done a tomahawk chop motion while one of their group was being antagonized by an assertive American Indian with a drum, Howard Dean wants to close their school, a Saturday Night Live writer has offered to fellate "whoever manages to punch the MAGA kid in the face," and a prominent Hollywood producer wants to feed them into a woodchipper.  The high school was closed Tuesday because of death threats

I don't care if Debbie Dingell and the mayor of Ypsilanti, Michigan (where Phillips lives) vouch for Phillips.  He's exposed himself as a liar, and for the sake of getting publicity for himself, a lot of innocent people are going to be harmed.  The Detroit Free Press, and its reporter, Niraj Warikoo, who, rather than report the facts, took dictation from an activist with an agenda and then presented it as truth, is responsible for spreading this fire.

T.R. Clancy looks at the world from Dearborn, Michigan.  You can email him at