The lawsuit filed against The Washington Post by the family of Covington Catholic High School student Nicholas Sandmann was dismissed by a federal judge in Kentucky on Friday.
Sandmann was thrust into the national spotlight earlier this year when mainstream news outlets like the Post and CNN reported that he and several of his fellow students harassed a Native American man named Nathan Phillips while attending the March for Life. Phillips testified that “Make America Great Again” hat-wearing boys blocked his path and taunted him with racial slurs, which appeared somewhat credible at first when viral video revealed the boys standing around Phillips, cheering as he banged a drum in front of Sandmann’s face. However, the narrative took a dramatic turn when other videos showed that Phillips approached the boys, who were at the time being taunted with racial slurs by a group known as the Black Hebrew Israelites.
Without fully investigating the matter, news outlets largely ran with Phillips’ account of what happened, smearing the boys as racists. Sandmann arguably bore the brunt of the smears due to his face being featured so prominently in the video. In fact, media figures, such as CNN contributor Reza Aslan suggested he’d like to punch the 16-year-old in the face. “Honest question. Have you ever seen a more punchable face than this kid’s?” Aslan tweeted at the time.
Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” producer Jack Morrissey even said he wanted to throw the children into a woodchipper “Fargo”-style.” “#MAGAkids go screaming, hats first, into the woodchipper,” Morrissey tweeted.
Comedian Sarah Beattie, a contributor to “Saturday Night Live,” went as far as to offer free blowjobs to anyone that would punch a Covington boy. “I will blow whoever manages to punch that maga kid in the face,” she said in the now-deleted tweet.
In response, Sandmann’s family sued several news outlets for defamation, targeting the Post first for $250 million, accusing the outlet of “using its vast financial resources to enter the bully pulpit by publishing a series of false and defamatory print and online articles … to smear a young boy who was in its view an acceptable casualty in their war against the president.”
Fox News reports that U.S. District Judge William Bertelsman (appointed by former President Jimmy Carter) dismissed the lawsuit on Friday, arguing that the Post did not commit defamation because it never mentioned Sandmann by name.
“The words used contain no reflection upon any particular individual,” the judge said in the ruling, adding that the newspaper used “loose, figurative,” and “rhetorical hyperbole,” all of which are protected by the First Amendment. More from Fox News:
Judge Bertelsman said in the ruling that he accepted Sandmann’s contention that “when he was standing motionless in the confrontation with Phillips, his intent was to calm the situation … ”
But he noted that Phillips asserted that he was being blocked from passing, and Phillips’ opinion was reported by the newspaper.
“They may have been erroneous … but they are opinion protected by The First Amendment,” Bertelsman wrote.
Ted Sandmann, Nicholas’ father, said that they will be appealing the decision to seek justice for their son. “I believe fighting for justice for my son and family is of vital national importance,” he said. “If what was done to Nicholas is not legally actionable, then no one is safe.”
Todd McMurtry, co-counsel for the Sandmann family, said that the law has an obligation to prevent this from happening in the future. “The law must protect innocent minors targeted by journalists publishing click-bait sensationalized news,” he said. “This is especially true in the current hyper-partisan political environment.”
The lawsuits filed against CNN and NBC by the Sandmanns have not been ruled upon yet.