‘If what was done to Nicholas is not legally actionable, then no one is safe…’
(Claire Russel, Liberty Headlines) A federal judge threw out Nick Sandmann’s $250 million libel lawsuit against The Washington Post on Friday, saying the Covington Catholic high-schooler didn’t have enough proof that the newspaper intentionally sought to defame him.
Sandmann and his attorney alleged that the Post’s article about his encounter with Native American protester Nathan Phillips was racist and confrontational.
But U.S. District Judge William Bertelsman said such claims were “not supported by the plain language in the article, which states none of these things,” according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Phillips, a prominent activist with a history of making false claims, was interviewed by the Post shortly after the encounter.
Bertelsman concluded he was just giving the events from his perspective, and that the paper did not act in reckless disregard for the truth while reporting his side of the encounter.
“[Phillips] concluded that he was being blocked and not allowed to retreat,” Bertelsman wrote in his opinion. “He passed these conclusions on to The Post. They may have been erroneous, but, as discussed above, they are opinion protected by the First Amendment.”
Certain words in the Post’s report—“swarmed,” “taunting,” “disrespect,” “aggressive,” and “rambunctious”—are protected under Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co., Bertelsman said, which addressed “loose, figurative” or “rhetorical hyperbole” covered by the First Amendment.
In a statement, The Washington Post said it was pleased by Bertelsman’s ruling.
“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,” the paper said through a spokesperson.
But Sandmann’s family said they’ll appeal the ruling.
“I believe fighting for justice for my son and family is of vital national importance,” said Nick’s father, Ted Sandmann, in a statement. “If what was done to Nicholas is not legally actionable, then no one is safe.”