In a move that should surprise absolutely no one, lawyers for The Washington Post have filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit from the family of Covington Catholic student Nick Sandmann, who was smeared by the media as a racist after a clip of him standing silently while a Native American man beat a drum in his face was shared online.
The Post “asserts its stories were accurate and did not impugn the reputation of Covington (Ky.) Catholic High School student Nicholas Sandmann,” the news outlet wrote of its motion. The Post wrote in court documents that its articles “may not have been flattering of the Covington Catholic students” who were seen in the video “but they do not give rise to a defamation claim by Sandmann.”
“Indeed, the Post’s overall coverage — including the articles that the Complaint fails to mention — was not only accurate; it was ultimately favorable to him,” the motion states.
Sandmann is suing the Post for $250 million — the amount Amazon founder Jeff Bezos paid for the news outlet in 2013 — claiming the outlet defamed him in its coverage of the incident.
The Post’s first article about the short video clip (which was framed as Sandmann and his classmates harassing a Native American man, even though the clip showed no such thing) included an interview with Nathan Phillips, the Native American man beating the drum. The initial reporting did not include a counter statement from Sandmann or additional video context of the incident.
The problem for the Post — reputationally, not legally — is that it decided to cover this short clip without attempting to get the full context, such as a statement from the minor in the video, more video of the incident, or any factchecking of Phillips’ claims. The Post continued to report on the incident as those elements surfaced, but it’s hard to argue the news giant didn’t act recklessly in the way it rushed to publish an article about an out-of-context video clip including two private citizens.
Sandmann was presented as the face of bigotry because he stood calmly while an adult beat a drum in his face. He later sued the Post for how it portrayed him. Weeks after the lawsuit was filed, the Post added an “Editor’s Note” to it’s initial article on the incident, acknowledging, finally, that “[s]ubsequent reporting, a student’s statement and additional video allow for a more complete assessment of what occurred, either contradicting or failing to confirm accounts provided in that story — including that Native American activist Nathan Phillips was prevented by one student from moving on, that his group had been taunted by the students in the lead-up to the encounter, and that the students were trying to instigate a conflict.”
The note did not name Sandmann or apologize for its inaccurate and damaging initial coverage.
Sandmann’s lawsuit alleges that the Post’s coverage of the situation cause “permanent harm” to his reputation and “severe emotional distress.” Indeed, Covington Catholic High School had to close over security concerns caused by unfair and inaccurate reporting.
The Post acknowledges in its article about the motion to dismiss that its initial coverage claimed Sandmann stood with a “relentless smirk” while blocking Phillips from his destination. Sandmann said he was just standing calmly, but outlets like the Post decided they could discern what he was thinking based on his stance. Still, the Post remains confident that it did not defame the teenager.
“It was neither false nor defamatory . . . for the Post to report the comments of eyewitnesses, including the only participants who were speaking publicly about the matter on the day that videos of the event went viral on the internet,” the Post says in its motion. “Newspapers are often unable to publish a complete account of events when they first come to light.”
As I mentioned earlier, the problem here is that the incident didn’t involve public figures. Sandmann and Phillips were private citizens the media decided to craft a narrative around. Had it not done this, Sandmann and his classmates likely would not have received the bullying and death threats from strangers when they were, in fact, the victims — of racial and homophobic slurs from Black Hebrew Israelites and from Phillips’ lies.
Covington Catholic and the Covington diocese eventually apologized to Sandmann and his fellow students for rushing to judgment. Sandmann’s attorney also plans to sue Phillips and has filed a $275 million lawsuit against CNN for its biased coverage of the incident.
Sandmann’s attorney, L. Lin Wood, did not immediately respond to a Daily Wire inquiry.