You know the story. Covington Catholic High School student Nicholas Sandman was maligned and became the mainstream media’s object of derision because he has the audacity to stand there with a smile on his face as a Native American activist banged a drum inches from Sandmann’s face.
He stood his ground, and for that became the poster child for white privilege in the rhetoric of the media and social justice warriors. Initial reports blamed Sandmann for being part of a mob that surrounded and tried to intimidate the drum-banger, described in the media as a “Native American Elder.”
Of course, it was a false narrative, promoted with deceptively edited video. When more complete video came out, it was clear that there was no mob surrounding and intimidating the drum-banger, and Sandmann did nothing wrong.
Sandmann has filed two lawsuits previously, against The Washington Post and CNN. You can get the background — and my concerns — about those suits in these prior posts.
- Covington teen Nicholas Sandmann sues The Washington Post for defamation
- Nick Sandmann lawsuit fallout: Washington Post issues small ‘correction’ and huge explanation
- Washington Post seeks dismissal of Nicholas Sandmann lawsuit, says reporting was “neither false nor defamatory”
New NBC Lawsuit
The Complaint reads similar to the prior complaints against other media in terms of framing the media coverage in the context of anti-Trump bias:
1. This action for defamation arises out of television and online reporting by NBCUniversal Media, LLC, which published false and defamatory accusations against Plaintiff Nicholas Sandmann (“Nicholas”), a minor, the 16-year old student who stood quietly for several minutes after being unexpectedly confronted without explanation by Nathan Phillips (“Phillips”), a Native American activist, who beat a drum and sang loudly within inches of his face on January 18, 2019, at the Lincoln Memorial (the “January 18 incident”).
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18. MSNBC has a well-known bias in favor of liberal political views and against conservative political views, publicly positioning itself as a liberal alternative to Fox News in October 2010, when it adopted the tagline “Lean Forward” to embrace its self-styled “politically progressive identity.”
19. NBC News division and MSNBC have a well-known bias against conservatives in general and President Donald J. Trump in particular.
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26. NBCUniversal attacked Nicholas by relying heavily on biased and unreliable sources without conducting any reasonable investigation of the circumstances surrounding the January 18 incident.
27. NBCUniversal’s attacks on Nicholas included at least fifteen (15) defamatory television broadcasts, six (6) defamatory online articles, and many tweets falsely accusing Nicholas and his Covington Catholic High School (“CovCath”) classmates of racists acts, including among other things, engaging in racist conduct by instigating a threatening confrontation with several African American men (“the Black Hebrew Israelites”) and subsequently instigating a threatening confrontation with Native Americans who were allegedly in the midst of prayer during the Indigenous Peoples March at the National Mall when Nicholas confronted them, during which NBCUniversal asserted Nicholas assaulted both the Black Hebrew Israelites and Native American
political activist Phillips.
28. NBCUniversal created a false narrative by portraying the “confrontation” as a “hate crime” committed by Nicholas.
29. Over the course of its coverage, NBCUniversal failed and refused to acknowledge that Nicholas did nothing wrong and continued to perpetuate its false narrative for over one week following the January 18 incident.
30. Indeed, NBCUniversal continued to imply – and even outright state – that Nicholas was culpable for racist behavior for which he should, at the very least, apologize.
31. NBCUniversal continued to promote its false narrative that Nicholas had instigated a racist confrontation with Phillips long after Phillips was exposed as a fraud whose version of events was not entitled to any credibility by responsible members of the media.
Of interest is that the Complaint brings up pundit panels:
34. NBCUniversal created panels on its talk shows to frame the January 18 incident as one involving a “hate crime” and demonstrating “white supremacy” as a result of “whites” being “emboldened” by President Trump’s presence in the White House and repeated these premises over and over, while continuously showing a carefully selected few seconds from the heavily edited videos that omitted the entire context of the incident.
This complaint seems to go into much more detail about the allegedly false statements made about Sandmann, perhaps informed by the defense mounted by WaPo in its motion to dismiss. But most of the narrative in the complaint is more about opinions expressed rather than false factual statements, and the concept of “false and defamatory gist.” There also are a lot of references to interviews with people who expressed negative opinions about Sandmann and what happened.
I have the concern I had with the prior lawsuits that the negative innuendo and opinions directed at Sandmann may not be enough to sustain a defamation claim, even if Sandmann is deemed a non-public figure.
We may get a signal as to how these lawsuits will fare when we get a ruling, in a few months, on the motion to dismiss in the first filed case against WaPo.
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