Why I'm Rooting for Nicholas Sandmann
The press in America has been Amazoned.
The Washington Post is a corporation owned by the richest man in the world and for all intents and purposes is your local paper now. Homogeneous content produced by the Post appears “reported” on social media and in papers everywhere. A lawsuit filed this week by a Covington High School student against the Post raises an interesting question: If Jeff Bezos can spin stories about kids to make money with impunity do we really have a free press?
Early in what will be a long game the complaint filed on February 19, 2019 by the parents of Nicholas Sandmann in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Kentucky against the Washington Post gets points for its storytelling. The 38-page manuscript describes in 213 paragraphs and 12 accompanying exhibits how the exploitation of an American teenager by vigilante journalism is accomplished. The question the case presents is whether its acceptable in civilized society.
The lawsuit seeks a reckoning the modern corporate media might deserve. The case tells the story of how and why the American public was falsely led to believe that a 16 year-old skinny white Catholic kid on a field trip from Kentucky was a knuckle-headed racist instigator because he stood still wearing a MAGA hat at the Lincoln Memorial.
People believed Sandmann was the epitome of a Trump supporter straight from the basket of deplorables because that was the news. We were led to believe by the press Sandmann was a very bad kid who did very bad things.
The scriveners of the charging document in a case bound for the newly configured U.S. Supreme Court do what they allege the Post failed to do, namely tell a true story of what transpired on January 18, 2019 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at the National Mall in Washington, DC. The lawsuit seeks to accomplish what the Post purports is its mission of holding the powerful accountable.
Whether you agree with President Trump or Clarence Thomas about the need to revisit the New York Times v. Sullivan decision is irrelevant. Defamation claims against reporters by public figures should have a high burden of proof to give the Fourth Estate breathing room, but just because a kid on a field trip gets caught up in a video that goes viral shouldn’t make him a public figure in the eyes of the law. Sandmann essentially stood still and said nothing while being filmed. The footage of the video was purposely edited to be misleading and the caption made up to reflect a Trump trope — something any reasonable investigation of the facts would have uncovered.
Sometimes a watchdog needs a watchdog of his own. Sandmann makes a compelling case he was singled out by the Post because of the hat he was wearing, the color of his skin and a stereotype — and then covered in lies. The Post didn’t report a story about Nicholas Sandmann’s role on January 18th it made one up and its ironic his rights to privacy are at issue since he was in the nation’s capital for an anti-abortion rally.
But maybe that’s the point. Fundamental rights of privacy and freedom of expression protected by the constitution should apply equally regardless of skin color, political beliefs, or means.