Accuracy in Media

Last week, a 12-year-old black girl accused three of her white male classmates of pinning her down and cutting her dreadlocks. The news made it to the national news cycle, with CNN and other mainstream media outlets covering the story.

CNN published an article headlined, “A 12-year-old African-American girl says her white classmates pinned her down and cut her dreadlocks,” which detailed the allegations. The child, Amari Allen, told CNN that three white males at the Immanuel Christian School in Springfield, Virginia, pinned her to a playground slide and cut her dreadlocks with scissors.

She said that they called her hair “ugly” and “nappy,” and also that she didn’t “deserve to live.”

CNN quoted the girl’s grandmother, who said she was “devastated” to hear the story. The local county police, the Fairfax County Police Department, is investigating the allegations and had filed a police report.

However, soon after the allegations were made public, the head of the school, Stephen Danish, said that Allen “acknowledged that the allegations were false.” The Fairfax County Police Department had no comment on the investigation, but the attorney representing the Allen family said that although she asserted that she was bullied, the incident did not happen at the time or place that Allen indicated.

The family apologized to the three boys and their parents, in addition to the school and community, for the incident. They said they are “prepared to take responsibility” and “know it will take time to heal.”

The school is in a different situation than most because Vice President Mike Pence’s wife, Karen, teaches art as a part-time teacher. The school was on the receiving end of criticism for its conservative Christian policies, one of which barred gay students and parents, when news of Karen Pence’s hiring was official.

NBC News, the New York Times, CNN, and other mainstream media outlets reported on the change in the story. After widely publishing the false allegations, the mainstream media retracted the racial narrative and published new articles to update the public. The media should learn from this experience to make sure that reporting is accurate and patient, instead of seizing on racial narratives that could stoke violence and resentment.

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