Image via WLKY
Image via WLKY

You would think that white nationalists attacking a black woman in front of hundreds of people and live news cameras would draw quick attention from local journalists. You would be wrong.

Local media was slow to react to this newsworthy event that unfolded inside a rally for GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump in downtown Louisville on Tuesday. Although WLKY’s reporter caught the incident on video, only The Courier-Journal eventually published a thorough story about their attacks on protesters.

A group of white men, including some wearing shirts affiliated with an anti-Semitic, white nationalist organization already identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center, shoved and harassed University of Louisville student Shiya Nwanguma during the Trump rally. Videos of the incident went instantly viral on social media locally and nationally.

The worst among the news stories filed after the rally came from Gordon Boyd, a self-described “news dramatist” at WAVE 3, who reported on the young woman who was shoved by white nationalist Matthew Heimbach. Boyd teased his piece with this tweet, waving rhetorical questions in the air:

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 9.21.09 AMBoyd’s idea of treating both sides fairly is to quote a blog post by Heimbach — who, like any 8-year-old caught red-handed, insists that she started it. Keep in mind here that there are at least two videos of Heimbach repeatedly pushing Nwanguma, but Boyd includes Heimbach’s evidence-free blog post in a numbing example of false equivalence.

We’re looking forward to Boyd’s tweets about the 50th anniversary of the moon landing: “Giant leap for mankind? But some say the landings were faked. What’s NASA hiding? #WAVE3News”

To further clarify, the video’s victim, Nwanguma, is a credible source because we see incontrovertible evidence of her victimization as Heimbach and others shove her through the crowd. She declined to be interviewed by WAVE 3, which isn’t surprising, as she is now of interest to national media and is likely being bombarded with interview requests. (We also requested an interview with her late Wednesday night, but she did not get back to us before publication.)

Boyd seems to minimize her experience in other parts of the story, such as this:

“Nwanguma’s confrontation with Heimbach and the veteran lasted little more than a minute.”

And this:

“News footage and cellphone videos show her smiling.”

Until evidence verifying Heimbach’s claims surfaces — if it even exists — Boyd’s piece is going out on a limb to lend credibility to people who were out of line. “It was clearly assault,” said local attorney Dan Canon in an interview with WLKY.

This is less of a news story and more of a thinly disguised attack on Nwanguma’s character, of the same brand that insists victims must have done something to deserve the violence visited upon them.

As terrible as Boyd’s story was, it was one of the only ones to even mention the fact that white nationalists were roughing up protesters at the Trump rally. This wasn’t some deep secret that reporters would have to expend a lot of effort to dig up.

Local activist Molly Shah was the first to tweet evidence of Heimbach at the rally; freelance photographer Nathan Roberson snapped a photo of Heimbach snatching someone’s sign and correctly identified him in the caption a few hours after the rally was over; columnist and activist Shaun King managed to identify Heimbach in a tweet and later in a New York Daily News article.

Other local news outlets did not fail to baffle us. In a headline, WHAS 11 said Trump drew a “diverse crowd” — a characterization that seemed wildly at odds with many photos and videos of the event.

Reporter Chris Williams, who pointed out that he didn’t write the headline, said, “We ran into people from several states, varying ages, backgrounds.” That may be the case, but even the dictionary agrees that “diversity” means “the state of having people who are different races or who have different cultures in a group or organization.” Labeling Trump rallies “diverse” belies the fact that his supporters are anything but, and could provide cover for people dismissing claims of racism.

Yes, Louisville media covered the Trump rally. Yes, they mentioned the rowdy crowds inside and out. Yes, they covered the protesters and the reaction to the protesters. But they missed the biggest story of the entire event: Anti-Semitic white nationalists — who frequently brag about the types of recruiting efforts that at least one witness observed at the rally — were attacking opponents at a campaign event for the leading Republican presidential nominee with no consequences from the campaign staff, security or police.

If the violence that’s been reported at multiple mainstream, public Trump events doesn’t sound the alarm for journalists to be thorough and expedient, we aren’t sure what will.

James Miller and Liz Palmer
    James H. Miller and Liz Palmer are national award-winning journalism teachers in the Journalism & Communication magnet program at duPont Manual High School. Prior to careers in education, James worked for The Courier-Journal and WHAS-11, and Liz worked at the Cobb Group and as a freelance writer. Follow them on Twitter: @jaymills and @lizpalmer1.


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