Judge dismisses Cov Cath student’s $250M libel suit against Washington Post

A federal judge in Kentucky on Friday dismissed Covington Catholic student Nicholas Sandmann’s $250 million libel suit against The Washington Post that claimed the organization’s coverage of his and his fellow students’ encounter with an American Indian activist at the Lincoln Memorial in January was false and defamatory.

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U.S. District Judge William O. Bertelsman ruled that the First Amendement protected seven Post articles and three of its tweets bearing on Nicholas Sandmann, the newspaper reported Friday on its website.

In analyzing the 33 statements focused on in the lawsuit filed on behalf of Sandmann, who was part of a group of Catholic students from Kentucky who came to Washington to march against abortion sued, the judge found none of them defamatory.

Bertelsman ruled that the vast majority of the statements constituted opinion.

Sandmann’s parents brought the suit. They told the Post they would appeal.

The Post reported that its attorneys argued the newspaper's stories were accurate and did not impugn the reputation of Sandmann, who became the focus a social media debate after video footage shot during a chaotic afternoon on the Mall showed him standing face-to-face with drum-beating Indian elder Nathan Phillips.

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In the lawsuit, Sandmann claimed the “gist” of The Post’s first article, on Jan. 19, was that he “assaulted” or “physically intimidated Phillips” and “engaged in racist conduct” and taunts.

Bertelsman wrote, “this is not supported by the plain language in the article, which states no such thing.”

Sandmann’s suit called the Post’s coverage libelous on its face.

The judge’s opinion cited case law noting that statements must be “more than annoying, offensive or embarrassing.” They must expose the allegedly libeled party to public hatred, ridicule and contempt, among other damaging elements, the Post reported.

The Post’s lawyers also noted that several of Sandmann’s complaints stemmed from the articles’ descriptions of the crowd’s behavior in general, not his. The judge agreed in many cases.

“And while unfortunate, it is further irrelevant that Sandmann was scorned on social media,” the judge wrote.

Shani George, The Post's director of communications, said, “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. We are pleased that the case has been dismissed.”

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