The lawsuit by Nick Sandmann against the Washington Post for its dishonest coverage falsely accusing a 15 year old boy of harassing a Vietnam veteran Nathan Philips (discovered to be “stolen valor”) will go forward, a judge had rules. This is a huge deal because it shows the trend of defamation law is moving in favor of those wrongfully accused by the media.
The gist of the story vs. the specific assertions.
In defamation law, courts usually look to the overall “gist” or “feel” of a story to determine whether it is defamatory. In lawyer terms, this is known as the substantial-truth doctrine. This is a high hurdle for most plaintiffs to jump.
Also complicating lawsuits by victims of the press is that opinions are protected speech under the First Amendment. You can only sue for false statements of fact. The fact-opinion distinction is confusing even to lawyers, and it’s also a bit disingenuous for newspapers to claim that they can’t be sued for their news articles because the reporters were only sharing opinions.
The gist of the Washington Post’s coverage was awful. The gist was that a 15 year old boy attacked a poor helpless Vietnam Veteran. Zero fact-checking was done. And it was later revealed that Nathan Phillips was stolen valor. He never served in the Vietnam war despite claiming he had:
Here’s the full quote, taken from a video of Phillips posted to the Native Youth Alliance Facebook page (9:45 mark): “I’m a Vietnam vet, you know,” Phillips said. “I served in the Marine Corps from ’72 to ’76. I got discharged May 5, 1976. I got honorable discharge and one of the boxes in there shows if you were peacetime or… what my box says that I was in theater. I don’t talk much about my Vietnam times. I usually say ‘I don’t recollect. I don’t recall,’ you know, those years.”
Phillips also ran up to the children to harass and taunt them. Phillips was clearly in the wrong, but the media held him out as a war hero in their effort to ruin the lives of innocent boys.
To this day, Snopes falsely claiming Phillips did not hold himself out as a Vietnam veteran, despite there being video evidence of Phillips himself claiming to have served in Vietnam.
You claim that Nathan Phillips (Covington harasser) never claimed to be a Vietnam veteran.https://t.co/7JLOJXNMSB
Here's a video of Phillips lying about serving in the Vietnam war.https://t.co/4YlYO3bjfE
Will you correct your fake news? pic.twitter.com/YPSNblJKO5
— Mike Cernovich (@Cernovich) October 29, 2019
Looking past the “gist” of the story to the assertions WaPo made about Sandmann.
In the Court’s ruling, the judge looks beyond the gist of the story, and instead examines all 33 statements made by the Washington Post:
The Court first notes that the statements alleged by plaintiff to be defamatory have not changed in the proposed First Amended Complaint. They are the same 33 statements alleged in the original Complaint and set forth in the chart attached to the Court’s July 26, 2019 Opinion and Order (Doc. 47).
The Court will adhere to its previous rulings as they pertain to these statements except Statements 10, 11, and 33, to the extent that these three statements state that plaintiff “blocked” Nathan Phillips and “would not allow him to retreat.” Suffice to say that the Court has given this matter careful review and concludes that “justice requires” that discovery be had regarding these statements and their context. The Court will then consider them anew on summary judgment.
Nick Sandmann’s lawyer reports that the lawsuit against the Washington Post for its smear of the Covington teens can go forward. https://t.co/o15vcswApU
— Mike Cernovich (@Cernovich) October 28, 2019
The Covingtongate ruling is a devastating loss for the Washington Post.
It’s hard to overstate how devastating this ruling is for the Washington Post.
Their coverage was indefensible. Why was an old man (stolen valor) going up to a group of teenagers newsworthy in the first place? What was the news value in what was a petty dispute at best?
We all of course know the answer.
Nick Sandmann was wearing a Make America Great Again hat, and he had to be destroyed.
The Washington Post and other outlets are struggling with what to do with their new social justice activists.
No 40 year old who had reported from war zones would have found the Nicholas Sandmann story worthy of coverage. But as people age out of reporting roles, new reporters must be hired. Legacy newsrooms are being loaded up with 20-somethings who grew up on Gawker.
The Gawker model is destroy destroy destroy – at least if the people you’re targeting is perceived as conservative.
As legal bills mount for the Washington Post, perhaps they’ll begin training new reporters in the proper role of journalists.
Mike Cernovich stood up for the Covington boys while conservatives attacked them.
When videos of Nick Sandmann hit, Ben Shapiro and David French attacked the poor boys. They undid their Retweets after Cernovich was able to get the truth of the story out.
But it’s good to know who stands up for the persecuted when it matters. When it’s hard.
For its part, WaPo accused me of “pouncing” on them:
A viral story spread. The mainstream media rushed to keep up. The Trump Internet pounced.
That outrage came from a parallel universe online, one that has been waiting for a moment like this. The pro-Trump Internet has, for years, worked to create a media environment that is designed to destroy the traditional news media and replace it. Mike Cernovich, a popular figure in this world, helped to promote the Pizzagate conspiracy theory in 2016. Pizzagate falsely accused a D.C. pizza shop of housing a secret pedophile ring, and ultimately inspired a believer to show up at the shop with an assault rifle.
WaPo itself lies about me. My reporting on pedophiles focused on Jeffrey Epstein, not a pizza parlor, and we’ve all seen my Epstein stories vindicated.
But if the WaPo wants to throw barbs about the dangers of fake news, maybe they can explain whey they lied about a 1t year old boy? What were they trying to inspire?