Late last month, the family of Nicholas Sandmann filed a defamation lawsuit against The Washington Post seeking $250 million in damages (roughly the amount Jeff Bezos paid to purchase the newspaper in 2013). Sandmann is the Covington Catholic High School teenager whose standoff with Native American activist Nathan Phillips went viral earlier this year. According to the lawsuit, the Post allegedly defamed Sandmann by initially describing Sandmann as the instigator of the confrontation with Phillips and for portraying Sandmann as “engaged in acts of racism by ‘swarming’ Phillips, ‘blocking’ his exit away from the students, and otherwise engaging in racist misconduct.”
Sandmann was one of a number of students from Covington Catholic High School who were wearing red “Make America Great Again” hats during a trip to the National Mall when they encountered Phillips. A media firestorm surrounding Sandmann kicked off following an online video depicting an apparent standoff between Sandmann and Phillips near the Lincoln Memorial. Comments online and on Twitter following the release of the video were quick to brand Sandmann and to a lesser extent the other Covington students shown in the video, as MAGA bigots. News accounts, including in The Washington Post, of the confrontation, sparked a media firestorm and national debate over the behavior of the participants.
Additional video footage, however, seemed to complicate the characterization of Sandmann as a bigot or the instigator of the confrontation with Phillips. Ultimately, several prominent media outlets and personalities issued apologies for having rushed to judgment. The Sandmann family, however, has contended that the alleged harm to their son’s reputation and standing in the community was already done and is demanding both compensatory and punitive damages. Continue reading