Covington Teen Is Suing Washington Post for $250 Million - Rolling Stone
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The Covington Teen Is Suing the ‘Washington Post’ for $250 Million

The lawsuit accuses the paper of anti-Trump bias in its coverage of the student’s controversial encounter with a Native American activist

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Nicholas Sandmann (left) and Nathan Phillips

The family of Nicholas Sandmann, the Covington Catholic High School student who was filmed staring down a Native American protester in Washington, D.C., last month, is suing the Washington Post for its coverage of the incident. The suit, which seeks $250 million in damages, accuses the Post of “targeting and bullying” Sandmann, 16, as part of an ongoing campaign to smear President Trump. Sandmann and several of his classmates were wearing “Make America Great Again” hats during the confrontation in front of the Lincoln Memorial following a pro-life rally last month.

“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,” the suit read, adding that 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.”

The president was tickled by the news, naturally.

Sandmann became the focus of a days-long media firestorm last month when a video emerged of him smiling in the face of a Native American protester named Nathan Phillips. Little was known about the encounter outside of what the video made obvious: that Sandmann and the classmates surrounding him were mocking Phillips as he stood chanting and beating a hand drum. Subsequent videos fleshed out the context of the encounter, which began with a confrontation between the Covington Catholic students and a group of Hebrew Israelite protesters. Phillips entered the fray and wound up face-to-face with Sandmann. The suit describes Phillips as “a phony war hero” who “targeted and bullied” Sandmann.

The lawsuit paints Sandmann as an innocent, diminutive child who was sought out by Phillips, and similarly attacked by the Post. “In this country, our society is dedicated to the protection of children regardless of the color of their skin, their religious beliefs, or the cap they wear,” the suit reads. “But the Post did not care about protecting Nicholas. To the contrary, the Post raced with reckless disregard of the facts and truth because in this day and time there is a premium for being the first and loudest media bully. The Post wanted to lead the charge against this child because he was a pawn in its war against its political adversary — a war so disconnected and beyond the comprehension of Nicholas that it might as well have been science fiction.”

The family is seeking $250 million in damages specifically because it was the amount Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos paid to acquire the Post in 2013.

The lawsuit against the Post comes at a sensitive time for the freedom of the press, which Trump has been attacking systematically since he took office. Prior to weighing in on the lawsuit Wednesday morning, Trump wrote that the media “has never been more dishonest than it is today.” A few hours later, he described the New York Times as “a true ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE,” ostensibly in response to a report the paper published Tuesday detailing the depths of the president’s habit of obstructing justice.

More concerning was what Trump wrote in response to the most recent episode of Saturday Night Live, which, as usual, portrayed the president as a bumbling moron. “Nothing funny about tired Saturday Night Live on Fake News NBC!” Trump wrote. “Question is, how do the Networks get away with these total Republican hit jobs without retribution? Likewise for many other shows? Very unfair and should be looked into. This is the real Collusion!”

Two days after Trump demanded “retribution” for a sketch comedy show making fun of him, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas called for the court to reconsider New York Times v. Sullivan, a landmark 1964 First Amendment ruling that limits the ability of public figures to file defamation suits against media outlets. Trump has on multiple occasions floated the idea of changing libel laws in response to negative coverage of his administration.

Now, with the lawsuit filed by Sandmann, the media’s ability to report freely looks like it will quite literally be on trial. The Post isn’t backing down. “We are reviewing a copy of the lawsuit,” said Kristine Coratti Kelly, a spokesperson for the paper. “We plan to mount a vigorous defense.”

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