Louisville, KY – A federal judge tossed out the defamation lawsuit brought against five major media companies by former Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann.
Sandmann filed lawsuits against The New York Times, CBS News, ABC News, Gannett and Rolling Stone magazine in March of 2020, the Associated Press reported.
He was seeking $65 million in damages from The New York Times and $60 million from CBS News.
Sandmann, who was 16 at the time of the incident, alleged that he was defamed by the media outlets’ misreporting of the incident.
The outlets took video filmed by bystanders out of context and blamed the high school student in what became a national shaming.
But what actually happened was that a group of teenage boys from Covington Catholic were filmed doing school spirit chants as they waited for their bus to pick up their group at the Lincoln Memorial after the Right to Life march on Jan. 18, 2019.
A video was posted of an elderly man beating on a drum in the midst of the group of boys, and the poster alleged that the boys had surrounded the man in a threatening manner.
Social media went wild condemning the boys, many of whom were sporting Make America Great Again baseball caps.
Eventually, Sandmann outed himself as the teen in front of the group, smiling at the old man as he beat his drum and chanted.
“I never interacted with this protester. I did not speak to him. I did not make any hand gestures or other aggressive moves. To be honest, I was startled and confused as to why he had approached me. We had already been yelled at by another group of protesters, and when the second group approached I was worried that a situation was getting out of control where adults were attempting to provoke teenagers,” Sandmann said, according to NBC News.
And more videos were released that showed the high school boys were being heckled by a group of Black Hebrew Israelites when the Native American man drummed his way into the middle of their group.
Black Hebrew Israelites are a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated black supremacist hate group who believe that they are the lost tribe of Israel and that other Jews are imposters.
Despite a hate group being present harassing juveniles, the native man confronted the group of teens.
Many of the boys’ critics who had initially condemned Sandmann and his classmates walked back their harsh comments after seeing the full videos of what actually happened.
But a number of mainstream news media organizations and high-profile entertainers have not apologized for irreparably damaging the teen’s reputation and calling on followers to harm him, Sandmann’s attorneys have said.
A federal judge threw out Sandmann’s lawsuits on July 26, the Lexington Herald Leader reported.
A federal judge in Kentucky today granted summary judgment motions from five media companies (NYT, ABC News, Gannett, CBS News and Rolling Stone) in defamation cases from Nick Sandmann.
— ErikWemple (@ErikWemple) July 27, 2022
A ruling filed by U.S. District Judge William O. Bertelsman found that “Phillips’s statements that Sandmann ‘blocked’ him and ‘wouldn’t allow (him) to retreat’ are objectively unverifiable and thus unactionable opinions,” the Associated Press reported.
“Instead, a reasonable reader would understand that Phillips was simply conveying his view of the situation,” Bertelsman wrote. “And because the reader knew from the articles that this encounter occurred at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial, he or she would know that the confrontation occurred in the expansive area such that it would be difficult to know what might constitute ‘blocking’ another person in that setting.”
The judge said the media couldn’t have known what Sandmann or Phillips were thinking, the Lexington Herald Leader reported.
“The media defendants were covering a matter of great public interest, and they reported Phillips’s first-person view of what he experienced. This would put the reader on notice that Phillips was simply giving his perspective on the incident,” he wrote.
Bertelsman added that Phillips’s statements did not imply the existence of any non-disclosed defamatory facts, which is the only circumstance when a statement of opinion lose its Constitutional protection, the Lexington Herald Leader reported.
“Therefore, in the factual context of this case, Phillips’s ‘blocking’ statements are protected opinions,” the judge concluded.
Sandmann has previously settled three cases with major media outlets including CNN.