The Washington Post is reporting that federal judge in Kentucky has rejected a suit brought by Covington Catholic student Nicholas Sandmann and his family that accused The Washington Post of defamation after a series of articles written about the student’s incident with a Native American protest group. The suit had sought $250 million in damages.
The judge for the lawsuit was U.S. District Judge William O. Bertelsman, who analyzed seven articles and three tweets that The Washington Post had written on the event.
“Few principles of law are as well-established as the rule that statements of opinion are not actionable in libel actions,” he wrote in his opinion.
“The statements that Sandmann challenges constitute protected opinions that may not form the basis for a defamation claim.”
However, Sandmann and his family are vowing to appeal the case.
“I believe fighting for justice for my son and family is of vital national importance,” said Nicholas’ father, Ted Sandmann.
“If what was done to Nicholas is not legally actionable, then no one is safe.”
Ted Sandmann is referring to the social media storm that surrounded his son after the video of what appeared to be the teen mocking a Native American elder went viral. The teenager was soon doxxed and started receiving death threats. Classes were even temporarily canceled at his school, Covington Catholic, due to security concerns.
The lawsuit had originally claimed that The Washington Post had bypassed journalistic standards by “falsely accusing” Sandmann of blocking the way of Native American activist Nathan Phillips, per The Daily Beast. Later video footage showed that it was Phillips that walked up to the group of Covington Catholic boys, which included Nick Sandmann.
“[Phillips] 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,” Judge Bertelsman added.
Covington student Nicholas Sandmann's parents filed a $250 million lawsuit against The Washington Post, saying the paper defamed him for political purposes when it reported on a January encounter between him and Native American activist Nathan Phillips. https://t.co/aGk2s2PH2E
— NPR (@NPR) February 21, 2019
The teenager was a particular lightning rod for controversy because he wore a red MAGA hat that generally indicates support for President Donald Trump. In fact, the lawsuit had alleged that the paper was negligent in its fact-checking because of its “biased agenda” against the president, per The Daily Beast.
The money sought in damages — $250 million — was also the price that Amazon head Jeff Bezos paid to purchase the newspaper in 2013.
The ruling comes as a particular blow, as Sandmann also has several similar lawsuits against other news outlets including NBC and CNN.
Meanwhile, Shani George, director of communications for The Washington Post, said that he was “pleased” with the verdict.