Why we hate the media: The Rittenhouse verdict

Kyle Rittenhouse embraces his attorney after a Kenosha, Wisconsin, jury found him not guilty on five counts, including first-degree murder. (Screen grab from YouTube)

Kyle Rittenhouse did something that was both shocking and courageous last week – telling his version of the events that took place when he shot three people in self-defense. 

Reliving a tragic event is horroring. Telling it in front of people sounds terrifying. Rittenhouse, 18, did it on Nov. 10, telling his version of the events that took place on Aug. 25, 2020, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Rittenhouse testified that he was in the area where protests and riots took place because he wanted to protect a small business and provide medical aid to protestors. Rittenhouse is a trained lifeguard and holds various medical certifications, including CPR and basic life saving steps. 

This weekly segment is coming to you late due to the length of the trial. A quicker verdict would have allowed this article to be published earlier in the week.

If you watched coverage of the trial on CNN or MSNBC, or followed along by reading the twitter™ timelines of left-wing political commentators, you probably would not have heard many of these details. Instead, you likely have been led to believe that Rittenhouse was an armed white supremacist vigilante, a 17-year-old who had no business being out late at night with a gun. Maybe you’ve been led to believe that Rittenhouse was the aggressor, who shot three protestors. Perhaps you were being told that Rittenhouse has somehow become the poster child for whitte supremacists, and they are funding his defense. 

None of these are true, but false narratives that were born almost immediately after the event still won’t die. Mainstream media networks and major newspaper publications are using their influence through their platforms to continue to paint Rittenhouse as a psychopath. Take Ana Navarro-Cárdenas, a political commentator who appears on CNN, Telemundo and other networks, as an example. She tweeted about the emotions Rittenhouse displayed while he testified about shooting three people. He hyperventilated and struggled to breath while testifying in front of other people, including his own mother. At the end of the day, Navarro-Cárdenas wrote it off as “crocodile tears.”

Navarro-Cárdenas’s response to Kyle’s testimony was just one in a boundless void of angry partisans, but it stuck out. A child (he was 17) went through a harrowing experience, and then found himself in court defending himself in front of a jury. He is facing up to life in prison. Navarro-Cárdenas and others want to see him convicted, as they are convinced he is a reckless vigilante propped up by white supremacy. 

This trial became political long before it started. Rittenhouse’s actions in August 2020 occurred during a summer filled with torrential civil unrest. The unrest occurring in Kenosha that night was in response to a Kenosha police officer shooting Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, earlier in the month. While those in Kenosha were protesting a local event, protests against police brutality, paired with rioting and unrest, spread across the nation. 

Those who supported the prosecution in this trial have continuously referred to Rittenhouse as a white supremacist. The main source of evidence to validate their claim is footage of Rittenhouse in a bar, flashing the “okay” sign with one hand while members of the far-right group serenaded him with their anthem. While the footage could appear problematic on its face, it leaves out some context – Rittenhouse is a highly-impressionable 18 years old. The prosecution issued a request to modify Rittenhouse’s bond rules, to exclude him from possessing or consuming alcohol, associating with far-right groups like the Proud Boys and flashing “white power signs.” The sign in question is a circle made with the index finger and thumb. It’s link to white supremacy stems from a hoax posted to 4Chan. Actual white supremacy groups began flashing the symbol. The Southern Poverty Law Center and other organizations gave these groups validation by associating the symbol with white nationalists. 

This point, which is subjective, was echoed relentlessly by the mainstream media. Talking heads and contributors drove the point home throughout the trial. Rittenhouse should have been surrounded by responsible adults, being that he experienced a traumatic event at such a young age. While it can seem harmless, images such as the one of Rittenhouse in a bar became problematic since they were viewed ahead of his murder trial. 

But Navarro-Cárdenas, who held the crown at the time for the most outrageous take, was quickly met by a new challenger – MSNBC’s Joy Reid. The left-wing anchor, usually known for not being afraid to say what she’s thinking, used both her cable news show and her own social media to share her thoughts with the masses. 

Brett Kavanuagh?! She can’t be that serious, or could she? 

Reid was perhaps the biggest offender of disinformation and awful takes from cable news personalities. She compared Rittenhouse to a “slave catcher,” saying that slave catchers in Slavery Era America were allowed to use violence to protect their property. While Reid is half correct here, it’s important to point out that when people speak of their belief to use violence to protect their own property, they are not referring to slaves. 

Reid’s words are disingenuous, but she is only one person who has constantly thrown fuel on the situation. Print outlets have published countless articles about this trial, making connections to racism and white supremacy. Cable outlets parroted these talking points. They referred to – a convicted child abuser, a man with a history of domestic violence and a convicted felon who traveled 51 miles with a weapon – as heroes and Black Lives Matter protesters. This is false. They were also made to look like “good guys,” trying to stop an active shooter. This is also false. We know these are false because Rittenhouse was acquitted. Some have even tried to have people believe that Rittenhouse should have let his aggressors attack him.

The trial ended on Nov. 12, and jury deliberations began on Nov. 15. The jury reached its verdict on Nov. 19 – not guilty of all charges. 

Rittenhouse likely wants to move on after this. He will no doubt spend a lifetime trying to repair his reputation and learn to live with the trauma from that event. His reputation has taken a huge hit, thanks to the mainstream media labeling him a white supremacist on Day 1. 

If you watched the trial, or at least made an effort to learn the facts of the case, good on you. If you relied on talking heads and blue-check journalists on twitter™ for information about the trial, you were set up for failure. The people of this country have much they could learn from this event. 

As for the mainstream media, this was just business as usual. Stoke the flames, reap the rewards. 

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Mike Ursery