Political Editors / November 19, 2021

In Brief: The Media’s Verdict on Kyle Rittenhouse

Why so many journalists got this story so wrong.

Kyle Rittenhouse’s story is, in some ways, a complicated one. As this article goes to press, the jury is still out in a case that never should have been brought. Independent journalist Bari Weiss reflects on why the media reported so badly.

Here is what I thought was true about Kyle Rittenhouse during the last days of August 2020 based on mainstream media accounts: The 17-year-old was a racist vigilante. I thought he drove across state lines, to Kenosha, Wisc., with an illegally acquired semi-automatic rifle to a town to which he had no connection. I thought he went there because he knew there were Black Lives Matter protests and he wanted to start a fight. And I thought that by the end of the evening of August 25, 2020, he had done just that, killing two peaceful protestors and injuring a third.

It turns out that account was mostly wrong.

You could find correct information if you looked hard enough, she said, but if you didn’t, “you would have been shocked over the past two weeks as the trial unfolded in Wisconsin as every core claim was undermined by the evidence of what actually happened that night.” And it was thanks to the deliberate media propagation of a political narrative.

One by one, she sets the record straight:

First, the idea that Kyle Rittenhouse was a white supremacist.

There was zero evidence that Rittenhouse was connected to white supremacist groups at the time of the shooting. He was a Trump supporter, yes, though he wasn’t old enough to vote. …

That Rittenhouse had no connection to Kenosha.

In addition to having a job in Kenosha, Rittenhouse testified that much of his family lived there: his father, his grandma, his aunt and uncle, and his cousins. He also testified that on the morning of the shootings, he went downtown with his sister and friends to see the damage done by rioting the night before, and spent about two hours cleaning graffiti off of the local high school.

That Rittenhouse drove across state lines with a gun that night to oppose the protests.

This was a line that we heard constantly — never mind that Antioch, Illinois, is about 20 miles from Kenosha, Wisconsin. As the trial has shown, Kyle Rittenhouse did not travel to Kenosha to oppose protesters. He testified under oath that he had traveled to Kenosha for his job the night before the shootings, and was staying at a friend’s house.

So what about the gun?

Rittenhouse didn’t bring the gun to Kenosha. The gun was purchased for Rittenhouse months earlier by a friend and stored in Kenosha at the home of that friend’s stepfather, as then-17-year-old Rittenhouse was too young to purchase it.

But it was illegal for him to even have the gun given that he wasn’t yet 18 years old, right?

That is not true. Under Wisconsin law, 17-year-olds are prohibited from carrying rifles only if they are short-barreled. The weapon Rittenhouse was carrying was not short-barreled. Which is why, during closing arguments, the court threw out the charge.

He was out there looking for a fight, and he got one: He killed two people and severely wounded a third.

Unless there’s evidence we haven’t seen, there’s no clear indication that Rittenhouse sought to kill anyone. What we know is that he showed up with a first aid kit and an AR-15-style rifle. Video evidence, and Rittenhouse’s own testimony, indicates that he offered medical assistance to protestors and ran with a fire extinguisher to try to put out fires — and that later, after being pursued, he killed two people, Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, and severely wounded a third.

The media misreporting is inexcusable, and she concludes:

To acknowledge the facts of what happened that night is not political. It is simply to acknowledge reality. It is to say that facts are still facts and that lies are lies. It is to insist that mob justice is not justice. It is to say that media consensus is not the equivalent of due process. And that pretending otherwise for the sake of political expediency is why the National Guard is now standing watch in Kenosha, bracing for violence once again in the anticipation of a verdict that for many, has already been decided.

Read the whole thing here.

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