Free Speech

Judge allows pro-life teen Nick Sandmann to sue Washington Post, reverses prior ruling

By Calvin Freiburger

October 28, 2019 – Pro-life teen Nick Sandmann’s defamation suit against the Washington Post got a new lease on life Monday thanks to US District Judge William Bertelsman partially reversing his prior ruling, which will allow the suit to move forward.

Immediately following the January March for Life in Washington, D.C., the press erupted with claims that a video showed boys from the Kentucky religious school harassing Nathan Phillips, a Native American activist, outside the Lincoln Memorial. But additional extended video and firsthand accounts soon revealed that Phillips was the one who waded into the group waiting for its bus and decided to beat a drum inches from Sandmann’s face, while the boys had merely performed school cheers in hopes of drowning out racist taunts from members of the Black Hebrew Israelites fringe group.

The Washington Post issued an editor’s note in March admitting that “subsequent reporting, a student’s statement and additional video allow for a more complete assessment of what occurred, either contradicting or failing to confirm accounts provided in that [January 18] story,” but neither retracting nor apologizing for its initial piece. Sandmann’s attorneys rejected it, and launched a $250 million defamation suit against the paper.

Bertelsman dismissed the suit in July on the grounds that the Post’s initial coverage didn’t specifically mention Sandmann by name, that its language was constitutionally-protected “rhetorical hyperbole,” and that while Phillips’ version of events may have been “erroneous,” the Post reporting on his “opinion” fell within the First Amendment’s scope.

On Monday, however, the judge partially reversed himself and allowed the case to proceed to the discovery phase, attorney Todd McMurtry announced:

Attorney Lin Wood also issued a statement praising the development:

As additional video came to light many journalists and other public figures quickly deleted their snap condemnations of the students, and an independent investigation commissioned by the Diocese of Covington forced the diocese to retract its initial condemnation of the boys.

As various media figures either tried to keep the original narrative alive or refused to unequivocally retract or apologize for their initial claims, attorneys representing the students have filed defamation suits against numerous other media outlets and public figures, including CNN, NBC Universal, Democrat presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman, comedian Kathy Griffin, ABC News’s Matthew Dowd, Princeton University’s Kevin Kruse, left-wing activist Shaun King, and Rewire editor-in-chief Jodi Jacobson.

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