The Washington Post is facing a $250 million defamation lawsuit brought by the family of Nicholas Sandmann, the 16-year-old MAGA-hat-wearing high school student who stood his ground at the Lincoln Memorial when a native American elder approached him during a conversationless video-recorded standoff.
The lawsuit alleges that WaPo “targeted and bullied” Sandmann after video of the confrontation went public to generate bad press for GOP President Donald J. Trump.
Sandmann was part of a Covington Catholic High School outing from Covington, Kentucky, to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on January 18, 2019. The teen was wearing a red and white MAGA (Make America Great Again) cap. This pro-Trump insignia evidently sparked the attention of Nathan Phillips, a known Native American activist.
With his own camera person in tow, Phillips, beating a drum and singing, walked slowly and deliberately toward the young man and stopped a few inches away.
The legal complaint compared Sandmann’s treatment by the Washington Post (WaPo) to “McCarthyism,” a term which first appeared in an editorial cartoon published by the newspaper in 1950:
“In a span of three (3) days in January of this year commencing on January 19, the Post engaged in a modern-day form of McCarthyism by competing with CNN and NBC, among others, to claim leadership of a mainstream and social media mob of bullies which attacked, vilified, and threatened Nicholas Sandmann (“Nicholas”), an innocent secondary school child.”
The suit alleges that WaPo “targeted and bullied Nicholas because he was the white, Catholic student wearing a red ‘Make America Great Again’ souvenir cap…” Nicholas was recorded standing “quietly and respectfully for several minutes after being targeted and bullied by Phillips” while the youth’s “body language remained non-aggressive and passive throughout the incident.”
WaPo also stands accused of conveying that “Nicholas engaged in acts of racism by ‘swarming’ Phillips, ‘blocking’ his exit away from the students, and otherwise engaging in racist misconduct.”
Perhaps the most damning charge against WaPo is that the publication “ignored basic journalist standards because it wanted to advance its well-known and easily documented, biased agenda against President Donald J. Trump (“the President”) by impugning individuals perceived to be supporters of the President.”
The Sandmann lawsuit builds a case that WaPo used its “vast financial resources to enter the bully pulpit by publishing a series of false and defamatory print and online articles which effectively provided a worldwide megaphone to Phillips and other anti-Trump individuals and entities to smear a young boy who was in its view an acceptable casualty in their war against the President.”
The Sandmann family filed the civil suit against WaPo “to seek legal redress for its negligent, reckless, and malicious attacks on Nicholas which caused permanent damage to his life and reputation.” Nicholas was bullied by a prominent national newspaper “with an absolute disregard for the pain and destruction its attacks would cause to his life.”
WaPo violated the sanctity of children who are protected in American society “regardless of the color of their skin, their religious beliefs, or the cap they wear.”
The bullying WaPo must be held “fully accountable for its wrongdoing in a manner which effectively deters the bully from again bullying…”
In a civil lawsuit, reads the Sandmann complaint, “punishment and deterrence is found in awarding money damages to the victim and target of the bully.”
How did Nicholas Sandmann’s legal team come up with damages amounting to $250 million? The suit is very clear about this detail:
“In order to fully compensate Nicholas for his damages and to punish, deter, and teach the Post a lesson it will never forget, this action seeks money damages in excess of Two Hundred and Fifty Million Dollars ($250,000,000.00) – the amount Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest person, paid in cash for the Post when his company, Nash Holdings, purchased the newspaper in 2013.”
In a Fox News interview, Harvard Law School Professor Emeritus Alan Dershowitz said that broadening the scope of the complaint to include Bezos and his media companies was “a serious tactical blunder” and advised new counsel to focus the issue on the wrong done to Nicholas by media defamation.
Dershowitz said that the central task of proving legally that Nicholas was completely innocent of all WaPo accusations of racist misconduct should be easy because the plaintiffs do not have to prove reckless disregard, as others have stated.
“All he has to do,” said Dershowitz, “is prove that they told untruths about him and those untruths resulted in harm to him.”
Dershowitz opined that Nicholas has a “significant chance” of winning his suit because “it’s a far easier case than if he were some kind of an elected official or a high government official or if he had thrust himself into the news and made himself into a public figure.”
Sandmann was “thrust into the public by the Washington Post and other media. He’s just a high school kid and he doesn’t have the heavy burden to prove if you were a public figure,” said the Harvard law instructor.
Another possibility Dershowitz raised was that WaPo might capitulate and settle out of court to avoid litigation – something that newspapers hardly ever do in such cases.
GOP Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin had this to say during the same Fox interview about the underlying nature of the Nicholas Sandmann case:
“This is literally the media…finding victims” such as Phillips was portrayed by WaPo. “That’s what sells. It’s tabloid journalism at its worst. It is a rush to the bottom.”
Gov. Bevin commented further on the WaPo smear campaign against high schooler Nicholas Sandmann:
“It is a reflection on the culture in this nation – and it doesn’t reflect well on us. It’s unfortunate how we are trashing people if they are in any way, shape or form, seem to be associated with or perhaps able to be connected to the President in any way.”