by WILL FOLKS || “If you’re explaining, you’re losing” the old expression goes … but sometimes explanations are necessary in this business.
On Sunday morning, this news outlet took the controversial step of identifying a 16-year-old young man in connection with some disturbingly graphic, racist videos. These videos – along with other threatening messages allegedly communicated by this young man – led to his forced withdrawal from a Columbia, South Carolina Catholic school last month.
And his subsequent arrest by local law enforcement …
For those of you just catching up on this saga, you can read our original post on it here. You can read our editorial thoughts on it here. And you can read the latest of what we suspect will be many follow-up reports here.
It now falls to me to say a few words as to why I ultimately decided to identify this young man (generally, minors who are accused of crimes have their names redacted from police reports and media outlets refrain from identifying them in their coverage).
The logic behind this is that many minors have not developed to the point of demonstrating sound judgment and, as such, should not be punished for the rest of their lives due to the “sins of their youth.”
In the case of disclosing the identity of sixteen-year-old Parker Mustian – the son of a prominent Columbia, S.C. attorney and grandson of a legendary Palmetto State political consultant – my decision involved many factors.
Ironically, none of those reasons involved his famous family.
First, Mustian identified himself in his videos.
“Howdy, I’m Parker Mustian and I hate black people,” he said at the beginning of the first clip we were provided.
Take a look (although consider yourself warned, the content is disturbing) …
(Click to view)
Mustian identified himself in the second clip, too.
“Hey. It’s me again, Parker Mustian, hater of all black men,” he said at the beginning of that video.
Take a look (again, though, be advised the footage is disturbing) …
(Click to view)
Aside from Mustian’s clear self-identification in these videos, their content created obvious cause for alarm. So did the threats Mustian is alleged to have made against his former school, according to an incident report filed on July 17, 2019 by deputies of the Richland County sheriff’s department.
That incident report referenced “additional videos and text messages” from Mustian in which he allegedly stated that he was “on his way to shoot up the school.”
Take a look …
(Via: Richland County Sheriff’s Department)
As of this writing, my news outlet has not been provided with any of the “additional videos and text messages” referenced in this law enforcement narrative. They have been described to me, but I have not personally viewed them. Still, the nature of the initial videos – and the fact Mustian was arrested in connection with the alleged threats made against his school – seemed to me to constitute a compelling public safety concern.
Also, the ongoing uncertainty regarding Mustian’s access to firearms contributed to my decision to include his name in this news outlet’s coverage.
Simply put, I believed (and still believe) people had a right to know about a possible threat to public safety.
On this point, the failure of leaders at Cardinal Newman high school to notify parents of this combustible situation until the very last moment – when reporters from The (Columbia, S.C.) State newspaper were preparing a report – strikes me as inexcusably negligent on their part.
Furthermore, I am shocked other local media outlets have decided not to identify Mustian given the potential danger he posed (poses?) to his community.
That also strikes me as negligent … although I understand their editorial thinking in refraining from identifying him.
To be clear: I am not suggesting (as some have) that Mustian is an aspiring domestic terrorist. Nor I am suggesting (as some have) that he is a disciple of Dylann Roof, the confessed perpetrator of the 2015 Holy City Massacre – a racially motivated mass casualty shooting that left nine people dead.
While I do not think anyone will ever convince me there is an “innocent” explanation for these videos, there may at least be a non-lethal one. In fact, my news outlet has editorialized that anyone leaping to such conclusions should refrain from engaging in politically/ ideologically motivated speculation.
None of us looking from the outside in know who Mustian really is … all we know is who he allegedly threatened to be.
Similarly, while pointing out the well-known neo-Confederate history of Mustian’s famous family, my news outlet has specifically refrained from blaming any of them for his actions. Or attributing those actions to any cause or banner …
Nor did Mustian’s lineage play that much of a role in my decision, although I understand it is one of the factors weighing on the minds of other news outlets.
I have also quoted sources close to the family who claimed the young man is not racist and was merely participating in some “shock value” experiment to see “who could be the most outlandishly, ridiculously offensive.”
Do I buy that explanation? Not really. But I am willing to listen to those advancing this view – and pass along their perspectives to my readers.
Finally, my news outlet has reached out to members of Mustian’s family (and friends of the family) in the hopes of incorporating their perspectives on the record. As is the case on any issue, my microphone is their microphone.
In fact, I would love to publish anything Mustian had to say about the matter.
Ultimately, though, my decision to identify Mustian boiled down to a conversation with my wife. As many readers know we have six children, including a boy who is nearly Mustian’s age.
I asked my wife over the weekend, “if our eldest did something like this, would we name him?”
“Hell yes we would,” she replied without hesitation.
Again, my hope is this sad saga eventually ends well for all involved – including (and especially) for Parker Mustian. But as it (hopefully) moves toward such a destination, I am going to continue to call it like I see it – both in what this news outlet reports and the editorial conclusions it draws from the information it is provided.
The decision to identify Parker Mustian was not an easy one, but I remain convinced it was (and is) the right one based on the circumstances.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading.
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(VIA: GETTY IMAGES)