On Friday, a federal judge in Kentucky tossed Nicholas Sandmann’s defamation case against the Washington Post. Sandmann, the Covington Catholic student smeared by the Post and many other outlets earlier this year as a smirking, MAGA-hat-wearing racist who had blocked Native American elder Nathan Phillips’s path, promises an appeal.
On appeal, Sandmann is likely to win. I’ll lay out why, after a quick review of what happened.
What Happened in DC in January
After attending the March of Life in January of this year, Sandmann and his classmates waited for their bus at the Lincoln Memorial. While waiting, Native American activist Phillips marched into the group, beating a drum and singing. He stopped in front of Sandmann, where he continued to play for some time, until the students were called to their bus.
Later, a short clip of the incident began circulating on social media. It captured Phillips playing his drum and singing in the center of the group of Covington Catholic students. Phillips claimed the students had swarmed him as he attempted to make his way up to the Lincoln Memorial. Phillips’s fiction went viral, with Sandmann portrayed as a MAGA-hat-wearing racist. The Washington Post unquestioningly ran Phillips’s story and either linked to the video or referenced it in a series of articles on the incident.
It wasn’t until videos capturing the entire incident came out that the media realized it had been peddling fake news. The full video showed that Phillips had not attempted to make his way to the Lincoln Memorial, but had instead marched into the group of students and stood in front of Sandmann, beating his drum and singing. The Post and other outlets immediately issued mea culpas, but the damage had been done: Sandmann had been branded a smirking racist and rendered a subject of scorn throughout the country.
Soon after the truth came out, Sandmann sued the Washington Post (and others) for defamation. The Post filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the articles it published did not constitute defamation as a matter of law. Judge William Bertelsman, a semi-retired Jimmy Carter appointee, agreed and tossed the case.
On Appeal, However, Sandmann Is Likely to Win
Margot Cleveland is a senior contributor to The Federalist. Cleveland served nearly 25 years as a permanent law clerk to a federal appellate judge and is a former full-time faculty member and current adjunct instructor at the college of business at the University of Notre Dame. The views expressed here are those of Cleveland in her private capacity.