A federal judge in Kentucky tossed Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann’s massive defamation lawsuit against the Washington Post on Friday.
What did the judge say?
U.S. District Judge William Bertelsman said the Post was within its First Amendment rights to publish the subjective opinion of Native American Nathan Phillips, whose account of what happened on the Lincoln Monument fueled outrage against Sandmann and his classmates.
“The Court accepts Sandmann’s statement that, when he was standing motionless in the confrontation with Philip’s his intent was to calm the situation and not to impede or block anyone,” Bertelsman said in a 36-page opinion.
“However, Phillips did not see it that way. He concluded that he was being ‘blocked’ and not allowed to ‘retreat.’ He passed these conclusions on to The Post. They may have been erroneous, but … they are opinion protected by the First Amendment. And The Post is not liable for publishing these opinions, for the reasons discussed in this Opinion,” he added.
Bertelsman said the Post used language that is “loose, figurative” and “rhetorical hyperbole” in its stories and social media postings, which is protected by the First Amendment.
What is the background?
Sandmann’s attorneys filed the $250 million lawsuit in February accusing the Post of “a modern-day form of McCarthyism.” The lawsuit claimed that the Post “wrongfully targeted and bullied Nicholas because he was the white, Catholic student wearing a red ‘Make America Great Again’ souvenir cap.”
Sandmann became a target of hate after the Post and other mainstream media outlets erroneously accused Sandmann and his classmates of mocking Phillips.
However, videos that later surfaced showed that the Covington students were attempting to defuse a racially charged incident instigated by a group of Black Hebrew Israelites.
What was the reaction?
A spokesperson for the Post praised Bertelsman’s ruling, claiming the newspaper “sought to report fairly and accurately the facts that could be established from available evidence,” according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Meanwhile, Sandmann’s father, Ted, said in a statement: “I believe fighting for justice for my son and family is of vital national importance. If what was done to Nicholas is not legally actionable, then no one is safe.”
Sandmann’s attorneys said the family plans to appeal the ruling.