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Two stories have intersected making for intriguing discussions about the First Amendment as well as the laws against defamation.
The first story is the defamation lawsuit of Nick Sandmann against the Washington Post for $250 million. WaPo’s coverage of the confrontation between Sandman and a Native American man exploded into a national story and was fed by the inflammatory and reckless coverage by WaPo and other media outlets. Sandmann’s lawyer, Lin Wood, said, “Nick Sandmann was perceived as an easy target. He is 16. Inexcusable on every level.”
I suspect that the attorney will also include information on the threats, intimidation, and harassment that Sandmann went through, which included his family leaving their home for security reasons, explaining how the extreme coverage endangered all those involved. The lawsuit claims that. . .
. . . the Washington Post ‘ignored the truth and falsely accused Nicholas of, among other things, ‘accost[ing]’ Phillips by ‘suddenly swarm[ing]’ him in a ‘threaten[ing]’ and ‘physically intimidat[ing]’ manner.’
The timing of this story is fascinating, given the solo opinion that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas issued on February 19:
Thomas said the court made a mistake in 1964 when it set a high barrier for public officials to sue the press for defaming them with a false story. That was later expanded to include famous individuals and people who inject themselves into big news stories.
In essence, public officials must show the publishers knew the report was false or otherwise displayed a “reckless disregard” for the truth.
Thomas argued that the framers of the Constitution did not intend such protection when they adopted the 1st Amendment, which forbids ‘abridging the freedom of speech or of the press.’
Justice Thomas clearly didn’t have support on the record from his colleagues.
Still, we can wonder whether his statement will influence the conduct of the Sandmann case, given the freedoms that the press has abused in recent years, I appreciate Lin Wood’s understatement about the lawsuit:
All members of the mainstream and social media mob of bullies who recklessly and viciously attacked Nick would be well-served to read it carefully.
I hope Sandmann is successful.
It’s time to hold the reckless press accountable.Published in