Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann has filed a six-figure defamation lawsuit against the Washington Post, stemming from the paper’s wildly misleading coverage of the January 18 incident at the Lincoln Memorial. The Post, which was one of the primary media outlets responsible for dragging Sandmann’s name through the mud for days, has yet to issue any real apology, explanation, or correction for its outlandish reporting. And when Sandmann’s attorneys filed the lawsuit, they dug their heels into the dirt and promised to defend themselves with vigor.
Well, apparently that position has weakened a bit in the ensuing weeks, because on Friday they published a belated note in the paper in which they admitted to their readers that the original story was, well, not quite up to par:
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.
While the note went on to link subsequent Washington Post stories that attempted to set the record straight, it did not offer any apology to Sandmann or to readers about the initial coverage. A close reading of this quasi-correction reveals that the Post is essentially still defending itself, claiming that they simply couldn’t have done a better job reporting the initial facts as they were presented on January 19. Hey, they only have access to the story they have access to, right? And if they created a national witch hunt against a Christian teenager because of it…well that’s not THEIR fault, surely!
In remarks to Reason.com, an attorney for Sandmann said that the Post’s notice to readers didn’t even scratch the surface of their liability.
“What The Washington Post put out is barely worth comment,” Lawyer Todd McMurtry said. “WaPo committed gross journalistic malpractice and cannot undo its deeds with an editor’s note that purports to correct the record over a month after it led a frenzied mob in trashing a minor’s reputation. The Sandmanns would never accept half of a half-measure from an organization that still refuses to own up to its error.”
The law gives the media a lot of leeway when it comes to reporting errors, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see the Washington Post escape a legal judgement in this case. That said, even in a media landscape filled with errors, bias, and outright lies, the early coverage of the Lincoln Memorial was exceptionally outrageous. The American people deserve to have a higher standard enforced, but it may be up to We the People to enforce those standards ourselves…simply by choosing to get our news from higher-quality sources.