The family of Nick Sandmann, the Kentucky teen who was involved in a viral incident with an Indigenous elder at the Lincoln Memorial in mid-January, has sued the Washington Post over its reporting of the event. Ted and Julie Sandmann are seeking $250 million in damages on behalf of their 16-year-old son, alleging the Post published seven "false and defamatory" stories.
Sandmann emerged as the face of an encounter between students from Kentucky's Covington Catholic High School, which he attends, and activist Nathan Phillips. Sandmann and his fellow students were attending the anti-abortion March for Life, and Phillips was at the Indigenous Peoples March, which were both held in Washington, D.C., on January 18.
A series of viral clips showed the students, some of whom wore red “Make America Great Again” hats, seemingly surrounding a small group of Indigenous protesters and mocking Phillips. As more information emerged, Sandmann and his classmates argued that they were actually being harassed by another group of protesters, members of the fringe Black Israelite movement, and that in the process of defending themselves they came across the Indigenous demonstrators. The incident led to a heated, longstanding national debate over the behavior of everyone involved and whether the media had fairly reported on the developments.
Sandmann's family seems to think that was not the case, and that the Post specifically targeted the teen as part of its "liberal media" agenda. "In a span of three days in January of this year commencing on January 19, the Post engaged in a modern-day form of McCarthyism by competing with CNN and NBC, among others, to claim leadership of a mainstream and social media mob of bullies which attacked, vilified, and threatened Nicholas Sandmann, an innocent secondary school child," reads the complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court in Covington, KY. It continues: "The Post ignored basic journalist standards because it wanted to advance its well-known and easily documented, biased agenda against President Donald J. Trump by impugning individuals perceived to be supporters of the President."
In a statement to Reuters, a Post spokesperson said: "We are reviewing a copy of the lawsuit, and we plan to mount a vigorous defense." What the family is seeking in damages — $250 million — is the same amount Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos paid when he acquired the Post in 2013. It's unclear why the Post specifically is being sued while many other outlets covered the incident and its aftermath. But it seems like the Sandmann family has considered bringing litigation against other outlets as well: Fox News reported that Sandmann’s attorneys sent preservation letters, i.e. a warning that a lawsuit might come, to over 50 news organizations, celebrities, and lawmakers such as the New York Times and Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Trump, who has often advocated for relaxing libel laws so it would be easier for him to sue news organizations, gleefully chimed in with a tweet supporting the lawsuit: "Covington student suing WAPO. Go get them Nick. Fake News!"