A federal judge granted a small victory Monday to Covington Catholic High School student Nicholas Sandmann in his defamation lawsuit against The Washington Post.
Sandmann and other students from the Kentucky high school became the subject of national media criticism in January after the March for Life in Washington, D.C. A video clip showing part of the students’ interaction with Native American activist Nathan Phillips led to the students being branded as racists and instigators. Later, a longer video of the interaction surfaced, disproving claims against Sandmann and the other students.
Sandmann’s lawyers are accusing the newspaper of negligently reporting on what happened and damaging the teen’s reputation.
Fox News reports District Judge William O. Bertelsman allowed the lawsuit to move forward Monday, reversing his initial ruling in the case. Bertelsman initially threw out the lawsuit in July, but Sandmann’s lawyers asked him to reconsider his ruling based on additional evidence.
The new ruling means the lawsuit can begin discovery, which will allow the teen’s lawyers to obtain documents from The Post about their coverage of the incident, according to the report.
Attorney Todd McMurtry told Fox News that a longer video showed that “Nathan Phillips presented a false factual narrative when he described what happened” with Sandmann. Phillips accused the student of blocking him from leaving; however, the longer video showed that Phillips was the one who approached Sandmann.
Judge Bertelsman then noted that after giving “this matter careful review,” he had decided that Sandmann sufficiently alleged a claim for defamation against the Post based on the statements identified as “Statements 10, 11, and 33,” “to the extent that these three statements state that plaintiff ‘blocked’ Nathan Phillips and ‘would not allow him to retreat.’”
… the court also noted that in his amended complaint, Sandmann alleged in great detail “that Phillips deliberately lied concerning the events at issue,” and that but for the Washington Post’s negligence or malice, they would have realized as much.
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The news brings hope for Sandmann’s defamation cases against NBC and CNN as well, McMurtry wrote on Twitter this week. They are seeking $250 million in damages.
“The law must protect innocent minors targeted by journalists publishing click-bait sensationalized news,” McMurtry said previously. “This is especially true in the current hyper-partisan political environment.”
The students and their families received death threats because of the accusations, and their school was forced to close several days because of security concerns.
Many mainstream media outlets wrongfully accused Sandmann and other students of harassment and racism in January after a heavily edited video surfaced of them face to face with Phillips, a Native American activist. Longer footage of the incident later disproved many of the claims against Sandmann and his peers.
An independent investigation also disproved many of the accusations. The report by Greater Cincinnati Investigation, Inc. states that the pro-life teens did not initiate the confrontation or use any racial slurs against Phillips or the Black Hebrew Israelites group, which also was protesting.
“We found no evidence of offensive or racist statements by students to Mr. Phillips or members of his group,” the report states. “We found no evidence that the students performed a ‘Build the Wall’ chant.”
Previously, attorney Lin Wood said Phillips told “lies and false accusations” about Sandmann and other students after the Jan. 18 incident. Phillips did not participate in the independent investigation. According to Townhall, he lied about the students chanting “Build the wall!” and about his Vietnam service.
The student’s legal team sent letters to 52 different entities demanding that they retract their statements against the students. A list of the 52 entities can be found here.
“There was a rush by the media to believe what it wanted to believe versus what actually happened,” McMurty said previously.
For example, McMurtry told The Cincinnati Enquirer that Sandmann was accused of getting into the face of Phillips, but the full footage of the incident disproved this claim.
Despite the new evidence, left-wing activist Kathy Griffin and others were adamant in their criticism of the teens and the teens only. There has been little condemnation of the Black Hebrew Israelite adults who shouted profanities and racial slurs at the students and Native Americans, or of Phillips who claimed the students got in his face when video evidence indicates that he approached them, according to Reason.
In a statement after the incident, Sandmann said he was confused by the whole incident and he smiled only to let the other protesters know that he would not be intimidated.
“I am a faithful Christian and practicing Catholic, and I always try to live up to the ideals my faith teaches me – to remain respectful of others, and to take no action that would lead to conflict or violence,” he said.