Washington Post urges court to toss Covington student’s $250M libel suit

The Washington Post is seeking to have a Covington Catholic student’s $250 million libel lawsuit thrown out, arguing in court filings that the paper’s coverage of Nicholas Sandmann’s chaotic viral encounter at the Lincoln Memorial in January with American Indian activist Nathan Philips did not defame him.

Sandmann, through his parents, sued The Washington Post in February over his depiction in specific articles about the incident.

“He and others who were present may well have been embarrassed by the attention — and hurt by the criticism — they received,” the paper’s documents argue. “But Sandmann does not have a cause of action for libel against The Washington Post.”

The motion was filed in U.S. District Court in Covington, Kentucky.

Lawyers for the student alleged in their suit that The Post had engaged in “targeting and bullying” and modern “McCarthyism.”

“The Post ignored basic journalist standards because it wanted to advance its well-known and easily documented, biased agenda against President Donald J. Trump … by impugning individuals perceived to be supporters,” according to Sandmann’s complaint.

The $250 million sought by the student apparently stems from what Jeff Bezos paid for the publication in 2013.

“To a large degree, it was the students’ own boisterous reaction to the initial insults of the Hebrew Israelites, and their continued celebratory response to Nathan Phillips’s approach, that transformed what would otherwise have been a routine set of protests in the nation’s capital into a social media sensation,” The Post countered in court filings.

They continue: “The Complaint relies heavily upon allegations of ‘defamatory gists’ that were simply not present in the Post’s coverage, such as that Plaintiff engaged in ‘racist misconduct.’ The Post must be judged upon the actual words of its coverage, not the charged interpretations of Plaintiff’s lawyers.”

The Kentucky teen has also sued CNN, seeking $275 million.

“Contrary to its ‘Facts First’ public relations ploy, CNN ignored the facts and put its anti-Trump agenda first in waging a 7-day media campaign for false, vicious attacks against Nicholas,” the lawsuit against CNN states.

Sandmann’s attorneys are threatening legal action against The Associated Press as well as other news organizations.

In a letter to the AP, dated Feb. 15, Atlanta-based attorney L. Lin Wood called on the news cooperative to “retract and correct” what his letter asserts are “defamatory statements.” Sandmann also provided his version of the events.

The actions of Sandmann and his Covington Catholic High School classmates have been intensely debated since video and photographs emerged of them wearing “Make America Great Again” hats and facing off with Omaha Nation elder Nathan Phillips.

Both Sandmann and Nathan Phillips have asserted they were trying to defuse tensions that were rising among three groups on a day Washington hosted both the anti-abortion March for Life, attended by the Covington students, and the Indigenous Peoples March.

But video of Sandmann and Phillips standing very close to each other, with Sandmann staring and at times smiling at Phillips as he sang and played a drum, gave some who watched it a different impression.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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