$250 Million Suit
Nicholas Sandmann found his life turned upside down near the beginning of 2019. On a Covington Catholic High School field trip to Washington, D.C. in January, Sandmann came face to face with Native American activist Nathan Phillips. Mass media outlets sensationalized the event, framing Sandmann as a racist white, “smirking” and obstructing a proud Native American war hero. Their vitriol was informed in no small part by Sandmann’s choice of headwear.
Overnight, Sandmann went from innocent Kentucky teen to the object of hatred for millions of mass media consumers. Among others, the Washington Post, NBC, and CNN misrepresented his actions, claiming that Sandmann and his classmates boxed Phillips in and verbally abused him. The world learned more about Phillips as well. His fairly lengthy rap sheet came to light, and he has since been exposed for misrepresenting his time in the Marines (he claimed to have served in Vietnam, in fact he was a refrigerator technician who never left the U.S. and was reported AWOL several times).
Sandmann filed defamation suits against the Post, CNN, and NBC. The suit against the Post was dismissed on July 26th by Judge William Bertelsman, but today he allowed it to go forward, albeit in reduced scope. The initial complaint comprised 33 statements alleged to be defamatory, the revised suit will focus on only three of those statements.
For the Washington Post, this is the second day in a row of bad news. The once-esteemed paper was excoriated yesterday for its beyond-gentle treatment of mass killer, torture expert, and rapist Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Even mainstream outlets like Newsweek got in on the fun.
The headline in question:
The Twitterati predictably went nuts, with thousands of users submitting their takes on obituary understatement, to hilarious effect. Below, a meta-death notice. It is far from the funniest of yesterday’s free-for-all, but it is perhaps the most accurate.
Tough times for the Jeff Bezos-owned paper. “Democracy Dies In Darkness” is its hammy motto. Perhaps it’s time to ask how long the paper can survive in the bright light of critical scrutiny.