The Jury Talks Back

7/27/2019

Nick Sandman’s Lawsuit Against The Washington Post Is Dismissed

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dana @ 7:14 am

[guest post by Dana]

Remember Nick Sandmann? He was the 16 year old Covington High School student who wore a red Make America Great hat and a so called smirk during a face-to-face encounter with Native American Nathan Phillips. Video of their meet went viral, and internet lynch mobs and social media users attacked Sandmann as an arrogant, white and Catholic Trump supporter being disrespectful to an elder tribesman. The accusation stuck in spite of later-released video showing the fuller story.

Attorneys for Sandmann later filed a lawsuit against the Washington Post for $250 million for compensatory and punitive damages:

The lawsuit claims that 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.”

The lawsuit adds that the Post engaged in “a modern-day form of McCarthyism” and “ignored basic journalist standards.”

“They didn’t investigate it,” Wood said. “They got it wrong. They published the false narrative and did not publish the truth.”

Yesterday it was reported that U.S. District Judge William Bertelsman dismissed the lawsuit. Responding to Sandmann and his attorney’s argument that that in its original story, The Post had put forward that Sandmann “had assaulted or physically intimidated Nathan Phillips and engaged in racist taunts,” Judge Bertelsman wrote that “this is not supported by the plain languages in the article, which states none of these things”:

As the Court explained at oral argument on this motion, in modern libel law there are many affirmative defenses, even for blames based on defamatory statements. These defenses are calculated to protect defendants, especially the press, from strict liability.

The defense that a statement of opinion is not actionable protects freedom of speech and the press guaranteed by the First Amendment.

More from the ruling:

The Court accepts Sandmann’s statement that, when he was standing motionless in the confrontation with Phillips, his intent was to calm the situation and not to impede or block anyone,” the judge wrote.

“However, Phillips did not see it that way. He concluded that he was being ‘blocked’ and not allowed to ‘retreat.’ He passed the conclusions on to The Post. They may have been erroneous, but, as discussed above, they are opinion protected by the First Amendment,” Bertelsman wrote. “And The Post is not liable for publishing these opinions.”

The suit against the Washington Post was the first of three suits filed against media outlets. The other two pending suits are against CNN and NBC.

The Sandmann family plans to appeal.

–Dana

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