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Can Nick Sandmann Win? Covington Student Sues the Washington Post

Posted on | February 20, 2019 | Comments Off on Can Nick Sandmann Win? Covington Student Sues the Washington Post


The Covington Catholic student whose “menacing smirk” became famous last month is suing the Washington Post:

Attorneys for Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann filed a lawsuit against the Washington Post on Tuesday, seeking $250 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
“The Post wrongfully targeted and bullied Nicholas because he was the white, Catholic student wearing a red ‘Make America Great Again’ souvenir cap on a school field trip to the January 18 March for Life in Washington, D.C. when he was unexpectedly and suddenly confronted by Nathan Phillips (‘Phillips’), a known Native American activist, who beat a drum and sang loudly within inches of his face (‘the January 18 incident’),” the lawsuit filed by lawyers Todd V. McMurtry and L. Lin Wood in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky reads.
The total sum sought by Sandmann is the same amount Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos purchased the Post for in 2013. The newspaper’s vice president for communications, Kristine Coratti Kelly, said in a statement to Reuters: “We are reviewing a copy of the lawsuit and we plan to mount a vigorous defense.”
In a tweet Saturday, Wood announced via Twitter that he would begin filing defamation lawsuits against several news outlets this week. “Nick Sandmann is 16 years old has 2+ years to identify accusers sue them,” he said. “No member of mainstream social media mob who attacked him should take comfort from not being sued in initial round of lawsuits which will commence next week. Time is Nick’s friend, not his enemy.”
The development comes after investigators hired by a Kentucky diocese have found that Catholic school boys did not instigate a January 18th confrontation at the Lincoln Memorial that went viral on social media. Covington Bishop Roger Foys initially condemned the students’ behavior after a video showed a teenage boy face-to-face with a Native American man. Days later, Foys apologized for “making a statement prematurely.”

The lawsuit mentions a crucial fact:

The Post rushed to lead the mainstream media to assassinate Nicholas’ character and bully him, publishing their first article no later than 1:37 p.m. January 19. This story was not “hot” or “breaking news.” To the extent the Post performed any investigation at all into what occurred, its unreasonable investigation did not take long, and contrary information did not stop it from publishing its first story in its Sunday newspaper the next day. One of the reporters on the story first retweeted the video approximately four hours before receiving credit for the Post’s first article. In the intervening time, the Post apparently managed to track down and interview Phillips, write a story, and fan the flames of the social media mob into a mainstream media frenzy of false attacks and threats against Nicholas.

In other words, the Post did not merely report on an online controversy, but by retweeting the video, one of its reporters was actually part of the Twitter mob that incited the controversy. And the newspaper raced to publish an article before it had conducted sufficient reporting even to know the name of the student whose “menacing smirk” may cost the paper an enormous amount in attorneys’ fees to defend this lawsuit.

Normally, I would not think the Post could actually lose this lawsuit. Libel law in the United States favors freedom of the press to such an extent that it is nearly impossible for a libel plaintiff to win. At least nine times out of 10, lawyers will advise against filing such a lawsuit. Yet the facts in this case are unusual and, perhaps, unprecedented. Editors at the Post decided to turn an Internet flame-war into an actual print-edition news story, and they did so with astonishing haste, repeating in print Phillips’s claim that the Covington boys “suddenly swarmed around him” without bothering to interview any of the students. (Link is to the Sydney Morning Herald, which republished the Washington Post article, which is behind a paywall.) If the Post reporters had done “due diligence,” as lawyers say, they would have discovered what Robby Soave of Reason magazine was able to prove by Sunday afternoon:

The Media Wildly Mischaracterized
That Video of Covington Catholic Students
Confronting a Native American Veteran

To produce that article, Soave watched more than two hours of online videos that showed what happened was quite nearly the opposite of what Nathan Phillips claimed — he approached them, not the other way around. Furthermore, contrary to the anti-Trump media’s narrative, it was the Covington boys who were the targets of racism in this incident, as they were insulted by a group of so-called “Black Hebrew Israelites.”

The Washington Post‘s Jan. 20 article by Antonio Olivo and Cleve R. Wootson Jr. put a misleading political spin on the incident:

The encounter generated a wave of outrage on social media less than a week after President Donald Trump made light of the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre of several hundred Lakota Indians by the US Cavalry in a tweet that was meant to mock Democrat Senator Elizabeth Warren, whom Trump derisively calls “Pocahontas”.
In a statement, the Indigenous Peoples Movement, which organised the march, called the incident “emblematic of our discourse in Trump’s America”.

But once the facts emerged — facts that the Post was evidently in too much of a hurry to bother finding — it became apparent that “discourse in Trump’s America” had nothing to do with it, except insofar as that “discourse” involves bogus accusations of racism against white kids.

Do I think a Washington, D.C., jury will force the Post to pay $250 million to Nick Sandmann? No, I don’t, but I didn’t think a Florida jury would destroy Gawker with a $115 million verdict, either. People are getting fed up with the “fake news” media, and in a case like this, where one of the nation’s most influential newspapers rushed to join a Twitter mob in promoting a false narrative, even a D.C. jury might decide to punish them for their irresponsible journalism.

UPDATE: Whoa! Talk about sloppy journalism — I’m guilty. This lawsuit won’t be heard by a D.C. jury, because it was filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky. In which case, my advice to the Washington Post is, “Offer a generous settlement, because a jury full of angry Kentucky rednecks is not your friend.”




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