Four major media companies asked the court to dismiss defamation lawsuits filed by Nicholas Sandmann. On Thursday, a federal judge in Kentucky denied the dismissal motions by the New York Times, Rolling Stone, ABC, and CBS.
The media companies argued that their stories written about the former Covington Catholic High School student didn't amount to defamation. The district court judge rejected those arguments, greenlighting Sandmann's defamation suits to continue.
The basis of Sandmann's lawsuit against theTimes is that the paper published a news article that stated Sandmann "blocked" activist Nathan Phillips at the Lincoln Memorial on Jan. 18, 2019. The Times claimed that Sandmann "prevented Phillips' retreat while Nicholas and a mass of other young white boys surrounded, taunted, jeered and physically intimidated Phillips."
Sandmann's legal team contend that Phillips' statements were false and defamatory. Sandmann's attorneys argue that the media companies "failed to engage in 'basic journalistic due diligence,' which would have revealed Phillips' lack of credibility." Attorneys for Sandmann also point out that the media outlets ignored all the available footage from the incident, which showed the full context of the confrontation and disproved Phillips' claims.
In the motion to dismiss, the Times argued that its article was "a standard piece of investigative journalism" and therefore not libelous.
CBS argued that the "statements at issue cannot be libelous because the publications in full included statements more favorable to Sandmann's view of the events."
Senior Judge William O. Bertelsman of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky rejected the dismissal motions, saying that the media outlets should have vetted for accuracy before publishing the articles.
"Under Kentucky law, a writing is defamatory 'if it tends to (1) bring a person into public hatred, contempt or ridicule; (2) cause him to be shunned or avoided; or (3) injure him in his business or occupation.' The allegations of the Complaint fit this definition precisely," Bertelsman wrote. "Defendant published a statement by Phillips that was made after Sandmann had departed for home, a statement to which Sandmann had no opportunity to reply in real time. While Sandmann had such an opportunity later, and such evidence might be admissible to show lack of malice, it is not a defense to the defamatory meaning of Phillips' original statement itself."
Sandmann stated that the "news media caused him to be harassed by the public, causing him great emotional distress." His legal team alleges that the Times article "is now forever a part of the historical Internet record and will haunt and taint Nicholas for the remainder of his natural life and impugn his reputation for generations to come."
On Thursday, Sandmann's attorney Lin Wood wrote on Twitter: "CNN & Washington Post previously settled defamation cases filed against them by @N1ckSandmann. 2 down, 6 to go."
"In light of media propaganda we have been experiencing on an increasing basis since January of 2019, DISCOVERY in the remaining cases should be extremely revealing," Wood tweeted. "Motions to Dismiss @N1ckSandmann defamation lawsuits filed in KY federal court against NY Times, Rolling Stone, ABC, & CBS were just DENIED. NBC motion has previously been DENIED. Gannett motion was briefed on different time schedule & a DENIAL is expected in next few weeks."
CNN & Washington Post previously settled defamation cases filed against them by @N1ckSandmann. 2 down, 6 to go. I… https://t.co/eXL93dx3Id— Lin Wood (@Lin Wood)1601586914.0
Sandmann, who is now a college freshman, recently began working for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) re-election campaign. In August, Sandmann delivered a speech at the Republican National Convention.