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Sandmann Suit Against Washington Post Dismissed

nicholas sandmann
Survival Media Agency via AP
In this Friday, Jan. 18, 2019 image made from video provided by the Survival Media Agency, Covington Catholic studen Nicholas Sandmann, center left, stands in front of an elderly Native American singing and playing a drum in Washington.

The lawsuit filed by Covington Catholic High School student Nicholas Sandmann against the Washington Post was dismissed Friday by U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Kentucky William Bertelsman.

Sandmann had sought $250 million in damages from the Post for its coverage of an encounter involving Sandmann, a Native American activist named Nathan Phillips, and a group of Black Hebrew Israelites. A short video of the encounter in January, while Cov Cath students were in Washington, D.C. to attend the National March for Life, went widely viral on social media and was originally characterized as the students having encircled Phillips, in an attempt to intimidate him.

Later, more and longer videos would add context to the story that Phillips had approached the students who were already in the midst of performing school chants after engaging in a back-and-forth with the Black Hebrew Israelites.

Sandmann alleged that the Post published false statements about him that were defamatory. He had been the face of the original viral video, with many characterizing him as smirking at Phillips.

The Post sought to have the suit dismissed and Bertelsman did so on Friday.

In his ruling, Bertelsman noted that the court accepts Sandmann's characterization of the events of that day, that the teen was standing motionless near Phillips to calm the situation and not to impede or block anyone. 

Bertelsman also noted that Phillips, as recounted in press accounts at the time, did not see it that way, and believed he had been blocked by the boy. Phillips's statement was given to the Post, which published it, Bertelsman noted. "They may have been erroneous," Bertelsman wrote, "but they are opinion protected by the First Amendment. And the Post is not liable for publishing these opinions."

Sandmann's similar lawsuits against NBC and CNN are still pending.

This story first appeared on The River City News. For more stories like this, visit now

Michael Monks brings a broad range of experience to WVXU-FM as the host of Cincinnati Edition, Cincinnati Public Radio's weekday news and information talk show.