A federal judge has granted summary judgment to ABC, CBS, The New York Times, Gannett and Rolling Stone, dismissing former high school student Nick Sandmann’s libel claims over an incident at the Lincoln Memorial that went viral in 2019.
In a video, Sandmann, in Washington with other students from Covington Catholic High School for the March for Life rally, was shown face-to-face with Native American activist, Nathan Phillips, who was at the Lincoln Memorial for the March. of indigenous peoples. Social media users were quick to pounce on the clips, with many concluding it showed Sandmann trying to bully Phillips.
Sandmann sued a number of news outlets for defamation, including reporting, citing Phillips’ account, that the student was blocking him.
U.S. District Judge William Bertelsman wrote that the media, in reporting on the incident, “covered an issue of great public interest, and they reported Phillips’ first-person view of what he went through. This would alert the reader that Phillips was merely giving his perspective on the incident.
Bertelsman wrote that “the Court concludes that Phillips’ statements that Sandmann “blocked” him and “would not allow [him] back down” are objectively unverifiable and therefore unenforceable opinions.
“Instead, a reasonable reader would understand that Phillips was merely conveying his view of the situation,” Judge wrote. “And because the reader knew from the articles that this encounter occurred at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial, he or she would know that the confrontation occurred over such a wide area that it would be difficult to know what could constitute a “blocking” of another person in this context.
After the incident sparked an uproar on social media, a longer version of the video contradicted the idea that Covington students were behind the incident or even mocking Phillips. Instead, it showed another group known as the Hebrew Israelites using foul language against high school students.
Sandmann’s attorney, Todd McMurtry, said in a statement, “We are disappointed with the decision. We intend to appeal.
A spokesperson for The New York Times said, “We welcome yesterday’s decision by the Federal District Court in Kentucky, granting judgment in favor of The Times as well as several other news outlets. The decision in the case reaffirms that The Times provided an accurate account of the controversy surrounding the events that took place that day on the National Mall.
Sandmann has settled lawsuits against three other outlets: NBC News, The Washington Post and CNN. Rolling Stone is owned by PMC, Deadline’s parent company.