Sandmann Attorneys Say Washington Post's Editor's Note "Grossly Insufficient"
The Washington Post, facing a $250 million lawsuit from Nick Sandmann, the Covington Catholic High School student who became the face of media coverage of an incident at the Lincoln Memorial in January, published an editor's note on Friday addressing its coverage.
The editor's note only further angered L. Lin Wood and Todd McMurtry, attorneys representing Sandmann in the lawsuit.
On January 19, a group of Covington Catholic students were seen in a short, edited video that went viral on social media. It purported to show the boys surrounding and mocking a Native American elder, later identified as Nathan Phillips, sparking worldwide outrage, particularly at Sandmann, who stood most closely to Phillips.
As the day went on, more videos of from the Lincoln Memorial emerged showing that it was Phillips who approached the Cov Cath students as they were engaged in school chants in response to hours of harassment from a small group of Black Hebrew Israelites nearby.
Sandmann's attorneys have been critical of media coverage and announced that lawsuits would likely follow. The $250 million suit against the Post, a number that is the same as the amount paid for the venerable paper by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, is the first.
A Washington Post article first posted online on Jan. 19 reported on a Jan. 18 incident at the Lincoln Memorial. 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. The high school student facing Phillips issued a statement contradicting his account; the bishop in Covington, Ky., apologized for the statement condemning the students; and an investigation conducted for the Diocese of Covington and Covington Catholic High School found the students’ accounts consistent with videos. Subsequent Post coverage, including video, reported these developments: “Viral standoff between a tribal elder and a high schooler is more complicated than it first seemed”; “Kentucky bishop apologizes to Covington Catholic students, says he expects their exoneration”; “Investigation finds no evidence of ‘racist or offensive statements’ in Mall incident.”
A Jan. 22 correction to the original story reads: Earlier versions of this story incorrectly said that Native American activist Nathan Phillips fought in the Vietnam War. Phillips said he served in the U.S. Marines but was never deployed to Vietnam.
Sandmann's attorneys responded on Monday.
"In a span of three days beginning on January 19, The Washington Post rushed to claim leadership of a mainstream and social media mob of bullies who falsely attacked, vilified and threatened Nicholas Sandmann, an innocent 16-year old boy," the attorneys said in a statement. "Late last Friday evening, 41 days after it launched its false attacks on a minor, the Post published an Editor’s Note and delivered to Nicholas’s lawyers a letter from its General Counsel, Jay Kennedy. With its unlimited financial resources, the Post likely spent tens of thousands of dollars on media defense lawyers to publicly parse and spin its false coverage in an effort to avoid accountability and limit its legal responsibility for its wrongdoing. The Post’s efforts were too little and too late."
The attorneys argued that the Post attempted "to whitewash its wrongdoing", but said it was "untimely, grossly insufficient, and did little more than perpetuate the lies it published - lies that will haunt and adversely impact Nicholas for the rest of his life."
The attorneys noted that the Post's general counsel stated that the newspaper "provided accurate coverage." Sandmann's legal team disagrees.
"The Post did not have the character to apologize to Nicholas and seek his forgiveness," the attorneys wrote.
"Last Friday night the Post made clear that it has learned no lesson and remains willing in the future to falsely attack others to further its political agenda, including false attacks on children," the attorneys said. "The Post has now double downed on its lies. As Nicholas’s lawyers, we will now double down on truth and aggressively continue our legal efforts to hold the Post accountable and obtain justice for Nicholas in a court of law."
-Michael Monks, editor & publisher
Photo: L. Lin Wood and Todd McMurtry (provided)