In defense of itself in a defamation suit, the Washington Post shows it still struggles with the facts.
Facing a $250 million defamation case, you can understand the desire of the Washington Post to have this accusation quickly dispatched by the courts. More than just the money, this is the kind of charge that can leave a lingering reputation. Considering how poorly the mainstream press is regarded these days, having a court officially declare a news source so error-prone as to be guilty of defamation is a result no outlet wants at the moment.
Moving to have the case dismissed, lawyers for The Post are eager to have the case thrown out. They contend, in the Motion To Dismiss, there was no intent by the paper to defame by repeating witness accounts of what took place.
Newspapers are often unable to publish a complete account of events when they first come to light. Stories often develop over time, as more witnesses emerge.
This could be an admission they had not properly investigated the story before running with it. Also, by passing off the responsibility onto witness accounts, The Post is ignoring the fact that videos of the actual actions had been revealed while it was reporting otherwise. These should have been obtained by the professional reporters.
Laughably, The Post then attempts to frame itself as the noble and upright player in this affair.
In short, the articles at issue may not have been flattering of the Covington Catholic students, but they do not give rise to a defamation claim by Sandmann. Indeed, the Post’s overall coverage — including the articles that the Complaint fails to mention — was not only accurate; it was ultimately favorable to him.”
The key word, of course, is “ultimately”. Before they turned magnanimous, The Washington Post turned his life over and shook it, leading the chorus of news outlets who condemned the teens from Covington High School by misrepresenting the incident. As a result, Nick Sandmann became a target of widespread abuse across various media platforms, long before WaPo turned “favorable” towards him.
It was all built upon supposition, not facts. The incident took place on January 18. Within a short period of time, the new videos revealing the actions that day came out. Phillips, whom the Post declared to be a Vietnam War veteran, was found to have never served active duty, and further was renowned as an activist who frequently concocts such incidents. The Post was revealed to have raced ahead with its reports while never doing actual journalistic work.
While the photos of the confrontation and a video seemed to bolster the initial impressions, before the weekend had elapsed numerous other videos had emerged showing what had actually taken place. The students had been gathered to get ready to leave, the Black Israelites (probably from the appearance of the MAGA hats) began hurling insults at the teens, and then Phillips is seen willingly approaching their group, intentionally walking up to Sandmann and banging his drum in the teen’s face. The teens never chanted “Build the wall”, nor “Trump 2020”, as was also reported.
What transpired into the following week was the Washington Post, and numerous other news outlets, scrambling to reframe the story based on the actual evidence and not their impressions. In short, their entire narrative unraveled. However, the damage had been done. Not only did the students absorb abuse over social media but Sandmann was targeted for hateful threats (as an example, one Disney film producer suggested he be thrown into a woodchipper) and a Bishop in Covington castigated the school.
Even as the facts from that day came to light, WaPo was struggling to even admit there were vagaries in the story. Gradually they reported on the nuances, but to claim they were “ultimately favorable” to Sandmann is laughable. It should not have taken a major news outlet so long to find the facts of the story, given others obtained these details. Within a day or two members of social media were able to find the videos of the incident that displayed the correct events, all while WaPo was still running reports in its original framing. In fact, it was not The Post, but a private citizen, who found Phillips’ official war records.
A major news outlet was scooped by amateur citizens. Additionally, it was not until March 1 when the paper issued a lengthy editor’s note to correct the story, and that had been in response to the announcement of Sandmann’s lawsuit. As the paper displayed in that revised editor’s note:
“Subsequent reporting, a student’s statement and additional video allow for a more complete assessment of what occurred, either contradicting or failing to confirm accounts provided in that story — including that Native American activist Nathan Phillips was prevented by one student from moving on, that his group had been taunted by the students in the lead-up to the encounter, and that the students were trying to instigate a conflict.”
At issue is that The Post displayed journalistic negligence, and for days it ran with its chosen narrative. Again, it needs to be reiterated, the general public was able to gather the evidence that exonerated Sandmann and his classmates. Had that not taken place, The Post’s version of the incident would have been allowed to stand, and the damaging impressions on him and his classmates would have been cemented. The Post was essentially forced into acting in a journalistically sound fashion.
“There is no fact alleged, however, to suggest that the Post’s coverage was motivated by an anti-Trump bias—and the prominent, front-page coverage given to Plaintiff’s version of events and the investigative findings in his favor belie any such motive. Politics has nothing to do with this case, and law warrants its dismissal.”
This statement, like the insistence on the vile acts of the high school students, is wishful thinking.