Attorneys for Covington Catholic High School student Nicholas Sandmann filed a $250 million defamation lawsuit Tuesday against The Washington Post, accusing the newspaper of targeting the teenager in “a modern-day form of McCarthyism.”
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Kentucky, came as the first of what could be dozens of lawsuits stemming from the Jan. 18 viral encounter in which Covington students initially were depicted as harassing Omaha Nation elder Nathan Phillips.
The complaint argues that the newspaper falsely conveyed the impression that the 16-year-old pro-life marcher “engaged in acts of racism by ‘swarming’ Phillips, ‘blocking’ his exit away from the students, and otherwise engaging in racist misconduct.”
“The Post ignored basic journalist standards because it wanted to advance its well-known and easily documented, biased agenda against President Donald J. Trump (‘the President’) by impugning individuals perceived to be supporters of the President,” said the filing on the Hemmer DeFrank Wessels law firm page.
The attorneys, L. Lin Wood of Atlanta and Todd V. McMurtry of Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, also suggested that more lawsuits would be filed. They sent a letter last month to 54 media entities, celebrities, lawmakers and Catholic dioceses asking them to preserve information related to the incident and warning of legal action.
“Lin and Todd will continue to bring wrongdoers before the court to seek damages in compensation for the harm so many have done to the Sandmann family. This is only the beginning,” said a note on the law firm’s website.
SEE ALSO: Donald Trump praises Covington student’s lawsuit against The Washington Post: ‘Go get them Nick’
Defamation lawsuits are notoriously difficult to win, but Mr. Wood referred earlier to his success in securing out-of-court settlements for high-profile figures, tweeting last week that media defense lawyers had in past cases had “quietly” paid his clients “millions of dollars.”
Kristine Coratti Kelly, Washington Post vice president for communications, said the newspaper would fight the lawsuit.
“We are reviewing a copy of the lawsuit and we plan to mount a vigorous defense,” she said in an email.
Nicholas Sandmann, who sued the newspaper through his parents, Ted and Julie Sandmann, became an international figure after video showed him smiling and standing face-to-face with Mr. Phillips in a crowd of students on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
The teen was vilified on social media until more extensive footage released later that weekend showed that Mr. Phillips initiated the contact by approaching the group of Catholic students and worked his way into their cheer circle as he beat a drum.
“The Post wrongfully targeted and bullied Nicholas because he was the white, Catholic student wearing a red ‘Make America Great Again’ souvenir cap on a school field trip to the January 18 March for Life in Washington, D.C.,” said the lawsuit.
Mr. Phillips has accused the boys of intimidating him and shouting “build the wall,” a reference to Mr. Trump’s border wall, although video footage posted so far has failed to show such chants.
The teens were waiting at the memorial for buses home after attending the March for Life, while Mr. Phillips had participated in the Indigenous Peoples March. Both events were held the same day in Washington, D.C.
The lawsuit accuses The Post of “bullying,” saying that it “bullied an innocent child with an absolute disregard for the pain and destruction its attacks would cause to his life.”
The request for $250 million in compensatory and punitive damages was described as the amount paid by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos when he purchased the newspaper in 2013.
Last week, the Diocese of Covington announced that the boys had been exonerated in an independent probe by the GCI Group, which concluded that “our students did not instigate the incident that occurred at the Lincoln Memorial.”
According to the lawsuit, the Post began writing stories about the incident on Jan. 19 based on a 1-minute clip posted by Taitano Videos, which was picked up by @2020fight, an account suspended shortly thereafter by Twitter over questions about its legitimacy.
“With no investigation into the @2020fight account, the Post actively, negligently, and recklessly participated in making the 2020fight Video go viral on social media,” said the complaint.
The lawsuit alleged that the newspaper was “one of the first, if not the first, mainstream outlet to expand coverage of the January 18 incident from social media to mainstream media.”