Chuck Ross, The Federalist, February 3, 2014
A group of Massachusetts parents are holding out hope for an apology or even just a correction from CNN’s Piers Morgan and others who, the parents say, unfairly smeared their kids in a story now lost like a pair of tube socks to the news cycle’s constant churn.
“These kids were slandered. Just absolutely torn apart,” said Tom Johnson, whose son is a member of the Lunenburg Blue Knights high school football team which was falsely accused en masse last November of spray painting racist graffiti on a teammate’s house.
Johnson, like all of the parents of Lunenburg football players I spoke to, is frustrated that nobody, including the media outlets and politicians who brought the case to national attention, has been held accountable for spreading the false claims that have sullied the reputation of their kids, their high school, and their community, a town of just over 10,000 about 55 miles west of Boston.
The most high-profile baseless attack came from Morgan who, on his show on November 20th, called the Lunenburg football players “gutless little cowards” and “horrible little bullies” during an interview with the Andrea Brazier and Anthony Phillips.
The couple claimed that members of the Blue Knights football team spray painted the words “Knights Don’t Need N******”–though with the last word spelled all the way out–across the concrete foundation at the back of their home.
Brazier, who is white, and Phillips, who is half-black, told police, local media, and Morgan that the graffiti was a racial attack aimed at their 13 year-old son Isaac, who also played on the team.
The athletes were eventually cleared of any wrongdoing in the case, but not before a 300 person candlelight vigil was held, an Acceptance and Diversity Advisory Committee was created at the school, and both Morgan and Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick weighed in on the supposed bigotry of the football players.
But not everyone believed the Phillips family’s story. One Lunenburg mother who sent her 15 year-old son–also a football player–to stand in solidarity with Isaac Phillips during an interview said that she soon began to question the family’s story.
The driveway to the Phillips home is hundreds of feet long, she said. The graffiti was perfectly sprayed onto the concrete portion of the house’s foundation. It wasn’t carelessly painted as graffiti tagging often is, she thought. Also, the two or three pit bulls caged up at the back of the Phillips home would have been enough of a deterrent. All of this was enough to cast doubt on the family’s claim.
The mother’s intuition paralleled that of the police and the FBI, which was brought in to investigate the graffiti as a possible hate crime.
Two weeks after the Morgan interview, in early December, Lunenburg police cleared the Blue Knights saying there was no evidence that football players were involved. The investigation took another twist as police and the FBI began to doubt Brazier and Phillips themselves.
Chief Frank Marino told reporters that Brazier was a “strong suspect” in the case.
FBI investigators said that Brazier had stopped cooperating with the investigation and that her story was inconsistent, according to an affidavit. When the FBI offered a theory to Brazier that she had painted the slur herself, she said “OK” and asked to be allowed to speak to her husband before offering more information.
Authorities issued a search warrant and took two cans of spray paint from the home. But the investigation has mostly stalled. Worcester County district attorney Joseph Early said recently that his office does not have enough evidence to charge anyone with a crime, though both they and Lunenburg police are still collecting evidence.
Blue Knights parents blame Gov. Patrick as well. The Democrat called the incident as reported by the Phillips family “disgusting” and offered them his support.
But neither Patrick nor Piers Morgan have to circle back to revisit the story, even though they did not hesitate to weigh in on when it seemed to be in line with their political bent. Occupying their own powerful bully pulpits, both the pundit and the politician have the privilege of getting to weigh in on a story and then ignoring any developments that might undermine their initial stance.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Patrick told me that the governor would not be making any more comments on the case. A representative for Morgan waffled back-and-forth between saying that staff were conducting their own investigation on Brazier and Phillips to issuing a “no comment.”