Judge Reopens Lawsuit Against The Washington Post For Defamation By Teen Nick Sandmann
Federal U.S. District Judge William Bertelsman has reopened Covington Catholic student, Nick Sandmann’s, $250 million defamation case against The Washington Post. Judge Bertelsman had dismissed the suit in July but is now allowing a discovery process in regards to three of the 33 libel claims against The Washington Post. Additionally, a separate multimillion-dollar claim filed against CNN has been granted discovery.
As you may recall, The Washington Post reported a January 18 incident during which Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann and Omaha Nation elder Nathan Phillips were recorded in a standoff at the Lincoln Memorial Stairs. Now, Judge Bertelsman is allowing Sandmann’s legal team to access The Washington Post’s documents at the time as they pertain to alleged defamatory statements about Sandmann “blocking” Phillips from exiting the confrontation.
Nick Sandmann is claiming that he was falsely labeled a racist and vilified by The Washington Post and other press.
Sandmann and his fellow Covington Catholic peers were demonstrating at the annual anti-abortion March for Life protest, all donning Make America Great Again hats. Nathan Phillips was participating in the Indigenous Peoples March. Viral footage showed Phillips singing and playing a drum face-to-face with Sandmann, who is seen smiling. His peers, also plaintiffs in the case, are shown in the background, jeering and laughing.
As the story quelled to a national platform for debate, new footage was unearthed that showed Phillips, in fact, approached Sandmann. The suit claims that The Post ‘bullied’ the plaintiffs to further an alleged ‘anti-Trump agenda.’
At first, Judge Bertelsman dismissed the suit on grounds of First Amendment protections of the press.
“Few principles of law are as well-established as the rule that statements of opinion are not actionable in libel actions,” Bertelsman initially said in his 36-page judgment last week. The First Amendment protects opinions printed in the press. Phillips had told The Washington Post that he was blocked from passing, and The Washington Post claims it was simply relaying Phillips’ opinion alongside Sandmann’s. Still, Sandmann’s legal team has cited three Twitter posts and seven articles that they deem ‘defamatory’ to their plaintiffs.
Sandmann has become the martyr of the right’s perceived war against #FakeNews, as instigated by President Trump.
When Sandmann initially filed suit, the President of the United States tweeted, “Covington student suing WAPO. Go get them Nick. Fake News!” Just today, Trump applauded the judge’s decision and denounced “the thoroughly disgusting Washington Post (which is no longer available at the White House!).” His tweet has been liked 84k times with over 21k retweets, many of which come with comments like, “That is excellent news in the fight against #FakeNewsMedia outlets that set out to destroy innocent people’s lives. I hope that Nick wins millions of dollars.”
“This is a huge win,” tweeted attorney Todd McMurtry. “Now #NickSandmann will be able to start discovery and find out exactly what the reporters were thinking when they attacked Nicholas and the #CovingtonCatholic kids.”
The new decision is likely to reopen a string of other suits in Sandmann’s favor and has already opened a case against CNN.
A week after The Washington Post suit was filed, McMurty filed multimillion-dollar suits against CNN and NBC. Today, the court released a new motion that grants discovery in the case against CNN. “As in the Washington Post case,” court documents read, “the Court believes that discovery is necessary to determine what happened in the unfortunate events which give rise to this litigation, and, to determine whether defendant accurately reported them, and, if it failed to do so, whether the failure was due to negligence or malice.”
Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren and CNN correspondent Ana Navarro are also implicated in a separate suit that would grant Sandmann up to $600,000.
The eight students are listed anonymously and claim that Warren and Navarro, along with ten other defendants, defamed their character and erroneously caused harm to their reputation and lives. In a tweet the following day, Navarro actually came to the defense of Sandmann, tweeting, “Some see it differently & yes, it’s complicated. I think the kid was obnoxious as hell & got into Native American elder’s face. But come on. For God’s sake. It’s Martin Luther King Day. Nobody -specially some kid not old enough to grow a beard- should get death threats. Stop.”
The defendants in the suit also include activist Shaun King, US Representative Deb Haaland, comedian Kathy Griffin, ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd, Mother Jones Editor-in-Chief Clara Jefferey, Rewire Editor-in-Chief Jodi Jacobson, Kentucky entrepreneur Adam Edelen, and former CNN correspondent Reza Aslan.
READ: The President Tried Making Vulgarity Mainstream With An Attack Against Mitt Romney But Ana Navarro Had Time To Play
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