A federal court in Kentucky handed the Washington Post a major win this week, dismissing Nicholas Sandmann’s $250 million lawsuit against the paper. Citing freedom of the press, Judge William Bertlesman said that while one could certainly take issue with some of the individuals quoted in the paper in the first stories about Sandmann and the incident at the Lincoln Memorial, the paper was within its First Amendment rights to have published the story as they did.
“The Court accepts Sandmann’s statement that, when he was standing motionless in the confrontation with [Fake Vietnam Vet Nathan] Phillips, his intent was to calm the situation and not to impede or block anyone,” wrote the judge. “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 as discussed above, they are opinion protected by the First Amendment. And The Post is not liable for publishing these opinions.”
We don’t necessarily disagree with the judge’s reasoning, but it doesn’t make the Post’s response any easier to swallow.
“From our first story on this incident to our last, we sought to report fairly and accurately the facts that could be established from available evidence, the perspectives of all of the participants, and the comments of the responsible church and school officials,” the Post said in an absurd statement.
The Post may have First Amendment protections for publishing the coverage they did, but for them to pretend that they sought accurate, fair reporting is as ridiculous a claim as we’ve heard in some time. The Post’s initial stories were astonishingly one-sided, leaving almost no room for any reader to conclude that this situation – “Marchers Accosted by Boys in MAGA Caps Draws Ire” – was anything other than a racist, white mob preying on an old, frail Native American.
Nick’s parents and lawyers insisted that this was not the final word on the matter.
“I believe fighting for justice for my son and family is of vital national importance,” Nick’s father told the Washington Post. “If what was done to Nicholas is not legally actionable, then no one is safe.”
His lawyer said: “The law must protect innocent minors targeted by journalists publishing click-bait sensationalized news. This is especially true in the current hyper-partisan political environment.”
For now, the best we can hope for is that this legal close-call will at least convince the media to exercise a bit of caution before launching their next witch hunt. But frankly, don’t hold your breath.