Nicholas Sandmann became famous in January 2019 when a viral video arose of Sandmann and fellow students from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky seemingly “facing off” with a Native American protester named Nathan Phillips in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the annual March for Life.
Commentators both on social media and from the mainstream outlets rushed to condemn the students, and Sandmann in particular, for what they alleged the video to depict: rowdy young white males and Trump supporters intimidating a peaceful Native American man in a racist and bullying manner.
Of course, the truth emerged that the viral video didn’t show anything like the truth of the encounter, which was that Phillips was the aggressor and provocateur (a role he fulfills as a sort of semi-profession), and Sandmann and his peers did not behave in any untoward manner. It is difficult to find representations of the contemporaneous coverage of the story on the internet, as most of the articles have been revised and sanitized of the initial bias against the Covington kids. Yet readers will remember well comedian Kathy Griffin’s infamous call for the “doxxing” of the students, or actress Alyssa Milano’s comparing the boys to the KKK.
Some artifacts of the traditional media’s rush to judgment remain, however. For example, an “open letter” to the Covington Catholic High School community written by a Huffington Post contributor can still be read online. An excerpt of the piece runs, “We know there are many wonderful children who attend your school and this one incident does not reflect every individual in your community. But it is also true that your students mocked an elderly Vietnam veteran while the supervising adults allowed them to represent your school wearing MAGA hats.” This, of course, isn’t what happened, but the letter gives a good indication of what was the near-consensus of the mainstream media at the time.
Another artifact can be found in a CNN article from the time. The piece’s headline currently reads, “Teen in confrontation with Native American elder says he was trying to defuse the situation.” Below the headline is an editorial notice that, “This article and headline have been updated several times since its first publication to add additional reporting regarding witness accounts, statements and other details.” A look at the URL indicates the kind of “update” the article and headline received. The URL string of the piece still reads, “teens-mock-native-elder;” and an archive version of the article from the January 20, 2019 reveals the reason why. The original piece, published on the 19th, ran with the headline: “Teens in Make America Great Again hats taunted a Native American elder at the Lincoln Memorial.” An archive version of the article from the following day shows the updated headline already in place.
Given the egregious mistreatment from the media, it came as little surprise when the Sandmann family (Nicholas himself was a minor) announced several defamation and libel suits, beginning in the Spring of 2019 with lawsuits against CNN, NBC, and The Washington Post. Later lawsuits were announced against ABC News, CBS News, the New York Times, Gannett and Rolling Stone, as well as certain individuals (some including elected representatives, which were dismissed on grounds of qualified immunity).
It was announced at the beginning of this year that Sandmann’s $275 million dollar lawsuit against CNN had reached settlement for an undisclosed amount. Now, today, Sandmann announced on Twitter that The Washington Post had settled as well. (It happens to be Nick’s 18th birthday today, as well, according to his Tweet.)
As with the CNN lawsuit, the settlement amount is not known.
In the tweet, Sandmann thanked his family and others who have been supporting him in his legal suits, but concluded by saying, “I still have more to do.” He subsequently expanded on this with another tweet, reading “We have settled with WAPO and CNN. The fight isn’t over. 2 down. 6 to go. Don’t hold your breath @jack.”
The final line is directed at Jack Dorsey, the co-founder and CEO of Twitter, against whose company Sandmann has another unresolved lawsuit pending. The fact two media giants have settled already may be a bit of writing on the wall as to which way the remaining lawsuits are likely to go. Those interested can keep an eye on the cases by watching Sandmann’s Twitter feed—and they may want to wish him a happy birthday, too.
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