Student’s Defamation Lawsuit Against the Washington Post Dismissed

Nick Sandmann achieved fame earlier this year when a short video clip of him standing face-to-face with a Native American by the name of Nathan Phillips went viral back in January. Sandmann, who is wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat in the video clip, was chastised on social media as a racist who had taunted a Native American.

After the video went viral, several news organizations reported on the incident, including the Washington Post, NBC, and CNN. Sandmann sued all of them for allegedly defaming him by misrepresenting his actions and failing to report the full story.

Shortly after the video went viral, it was revealed that the Native American group was there with the Indigenous People’s March and Sandmann and his classmates were students from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky, who was in Washington D.C. for The March for Life. But it turned out those two groups weren’t the only ones outside the Lincoln Memorial that day. The third was a group of Black Hebrew Israelites who, it turned out, were heckling the students and other visitors to the memorial, claiming they were the result of incest and sodomy. The students pointed out to the group of Black Hebrew Israelites that their comments about sodomy were homophobic.

Nathan Phillips saw what was happening between the two groups and intervened, singing along with other Native Americans. The students surrounded Phillips and the other Native Americans, and that was when the video clip was taken of Sandmann facing Phillips as he sang.

After a while, the students and Native Americans exchanged some words and then went their separate ways peacefully. There were a few more interactions between the students and the members of the Black Hebrew Israelites before everyone left the Lincoln Memorial.

In addition to the public shaming Sandmann received on social media, reports claimed that Phillips felt threatened by Sandmann and the other students because they literally had him surrounded. He felt they were preventing him from moving forward or retreating.

In his lawsuits against the news outlets, Sandmann maintains he did not engage in racist conduct, nor did he hurt, threaten, or intimidate Phillips.

But the Washington Post never reported that Sandmann had threatened or intimidated Phillips. They reported that Phillips had felt intimidated by Sandmann’s actions and the actions of the other students who were with him. Expressing that sentiment is Phillips’s First Amendment right and the laws of defamation and libel don’t prohibit news organizations from reporting expressed feelings and opinions.

Sandmann has since come out saying he wishes Phillips no harm and that he would be willing to have a conversation with him. Phillips has reciprocated the feeling, saying he’d be willing to meet with Sandmann and the other students on behalf of the international coalition that organized the Indigenous People’s March. Phillips also said that he intervened between the students and the Black Hebrew Israelites because he’s tired of seeing his country get torn apart.

Judge William Bertelsman dismissed Sandmann’s lawsuit against The Washington Post, but his defamation lawsuits against both CNN and NBC are still unresolved as of this writing.

Whether you are being accused of harming someone’s reputation or you believe someone else has harmed your reputation by making defamatory statements, it is important to consult an experienced slander law and cyber-smear law attorney. Our top-rated by Super Lawyers Naperville, Oak Brook, and  Wheaton defamation attorneys defend individuals’ First Amendment and free speech rights to post on Facebook, Yelp and other websites information that criticizes businesses and addresses matters of public concern. You can view here a federal court decision where we prevailed in a libel per se claim asserting the innocent infringer defense. Here is an arbitration decision where we successfully defended our client by presenting evidence that our client’s 20+ YouTube videos containing negative opinions about a used car dealer were substantially true and were protected opinion under the First Amendment. We recently required a defendant who publicized an allegedly false lawsuit regarding our client to provide an apology and full retraction as part of a confidential financial settlement following our filing of a $16 million suit for libel per se in federal district court.

Our Chicago defamation attorneys near Schaumburg also represent and prosecute claims on behalf of businesses throughout the Chicago area including in  Northbrook and Aurora who have been unfairly and falsely criticized by consumers and competitors in defamatory publications in the online and offline media. We have successfully represented businesses who have been the victim of competitors setting up false rating websites in order to publish defamatory content about our business clients. Beyond slander and libel law, our Chicago business, commercial, class-action, and consumer litigation lawyers represent individuals, family businesses and enterprises of all sizes in a variety of legal disputes, including disputes among partners and shareholders as well as lawsuits between businesses and consumer rights, auto fraud, and wage claim individual and class action cases. In every case, our goal is to resolve disputes as quickly and successfully as possible, helping business clients protect their investments and get back to business as usual. We serve clients throughout Illinois and the Chicagoland area. You can contact us online here or call us on our toll-free number at 833-306-4933 or locally at 630-333-0333.