The Kentucky teenager caught in a viral video during a protest last week, Nicholas Sandmann, sat down with Savannah Guthrie on the Today Show on Tuesday to discuss his whirlwind experience.
Sandmann has been making headlines all week ever since he and his classmates from Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, Kentucky attended the March For Life event in Washington D.C. on Friday. After his apparent smirk went viral, he was invited to New York by NBC News to tell his side of the story on the air. According to Sandmann, the situation has been grossly misunderstood.
“As far as standing there, I had every right to do so,” the 16-year-old student said. “My position is that I was not disrespectful to Mr. Phillips. I respect him. I'd like to talk to him."
Sandmann is referring to Nathan Phillips, an Omaha elder and Vietnam War veteran who was marching with a group of other Native American people for the simultaneous Indigenous Peoples March. He also referred to a third group in the encounter: the Hebrew Israelites, a movement that the Southern Poverty Law Center claims is "growing more militant."
Sandmann said that he and his classmates were waiting for their buses home when the Hebrew Israelites began jeering and chanting at them, calling them "incest kids, bigots, racists" and "f—s." In response, he said that the students began doing "school chants," but vehemently denies that anyone was chanting "build that wall" or other inflammatory slogans.
"None of my classmates are racist people," he said.
He claimed that Phillips and his group then interceded, marching up to the Covington students to drum in his face, creating the now infamous clip online. He said that all he did was stand his ground wearing what he thought was a passive smile.
“I mean, in hindsight, I wish we could've walked away and avoided the whole thing," he admitted. "But I can't say that I'm sorry for listening to him and standing there.”
Phillips himself is reportedly scheduled to appear on the Today Show for a similar interview on Thursday. He has corroborated Sandmann's version of events in short interviews since, noting that he did approach the students initially. Meanwhile, many are furious at NBC News for having Sandmann on in the first place, and also for Guthrie's interview style.
The anchor challenged Sandmann's narrative towards the end of the clip, but some say she was too quick to accept his version of events. She noted that NBC News could not identify clips of the Covington students chanting "build that wall," but did not point to other clips that are seen as more offensive than Sandmann's smirk.
I believe this video of the Covington Catholic High School students is much worse than the one with Nick Sandmann. We see them mock Nathan Phillips with racist body language, gestures, and profound disrespect. Phillips and Sandmann should properly meet. pic.twitter.com/t0uDqbQQq8— Eugene Gu, MD (@eugenegu) January 23, 2019
Meanwhile, many are furious about the fact that Sandmann and his family have retained the services of a public relations firm called RunSwitch, which is run in part by a former member of Senator Mitch McConnell's staff. RunSwitch issued a statement to the Courier Journal, confirming that it "has been retained by the Sandmann family to offer professional counsel with what has become a national media story. We are working with the family to ensure an accurate recounting of events which occurred this past weekend.”0comments
Many online feel that big news outlets like NBC and CNN have a responsibility to disclose this association when reporting on the story, and when reading the statements that Sandmann presumably had professional help preparing.
.@Jaketapper I wrote this in my piece but I don;t think how many people realize you are working with the PR firm--run by a former @senatemajldr staffer--that is fronting for Sandmann. Don't you need to disclose that???— Jodi Jacobson (@jljacobson) January 23, 2019
Phillips is expected to appear on The Today Show in a similar interview on Thursday morning.