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Judge dismisses lawsuit against Washington Post brought by Covington Catholic High School student

ANI | Updated: Jul 28, 2019 03:58 IST

Washington D.C. [USA], July 28 (ANI): In a very significant ruling on media law, a federal judge in Kentucky has dismissed a lawsuit against The Washington Post on Friday (local time) brought by a high school student who claimed that the organisation's coverage of his and his fellow students' encounter with an American Indian activist at the Lincoln Memorial in January was false and defamatory.
According to the newspaper, Nicholas Sandmann, a student at Covington Catholic High School, sued the newspaper for USD 250 million in February, alleging that it had engaged in "targeting and bullying" and modern "McCarthyism."
The incident came to light after a video of Sandmann and his classmates wearing "Make America Great Again" hats stood face-to-face near a Native American man playing a drum went viral online. Soon after, additional footage provided more context of the incident, but the first video had already touched off accusations of bigotry.
President Donald Trump cheered the lawsuit, posting on Twitter "Covington student suing WAPO. Go get them Nick. Fake News!"
Sandmann at the time strongly denied accusations of racism and intolerance, saying he had actually been trying to "defuse the situation" by "remaining motionless and calm."
Federal judge William O Bertelsman ruled that there may have been "erroneous" opinions published by the Post, but they are protected by the First Amendment.
"The Court accepts Sandmann's statement that, when he was standing motionless in the confrontation with Phillips, his intent was to calm the situation and not to impede or block anyone. However, Phillips did not see it that way. He concluded that he was being 'blocked' and not allowed to 'retreat.' He passed these conclusions on to The Post. They may have been erroneous, but as discussed above, they are opinion protected by the First Amendment. And The Post is not liable for publishing these opinions," CNN quoted the judge as saying.
The Washington Post said it is "pleased" with the judge's decision.
"From our first story on this incident to our last, we sought to report fairly and accurately the facts that could be established from available evidence, the perspectives of all of the participants, and the comments of the responsible church and school officials," a Washington Post spokesperson said in a statement.
Sandmann's parents told WaPo that they plan to appeal the decision. "I believe fighting for justice for my son and family is of vital national importance," Ted Sandmann told the newspaper.
"If what was done to Nicholas is not legally actionable, then no one is safe," he added.
Other lawsuits filed by the family against CNN and NBC are pending. The court may rule in the coming weeks.
Multiple media lawyers told CNN Business that The Washington Post was facing the toughest set of facts with regard to Sandmann coverage, so Friday's ruling may bode well for the other news outlets, but lawyers know not to count any chickens until they hatch. (ANI)