Students of ancient history may recall the victimization of Nicholas Sandmann by the Washington Post and other organs of the mainstream media this past January. Working from their reports, social media amplified the wrongs committed against Sandmann by the mainstream media.
In due course Sandmann filed defamation lawsuits against the Washington Post and others. Our own comments on the lawsuit against the Post focused on the constitutional protection afforded defamation of public figures. As it turns out, (senior) Judge William Bertelsman dismissed the lawsuit on other grounds, the gist of which was partially anticipated by Paul Mirengoff here.
According to Judge Bertelsmann, most of the statements concerning Sandmann were neither true nor false statements of fact. Rather, they were statements of opinion and therefore subject to the full protection of the First Amendment. Under the court’s analysis, it seems easy to translate defamatory factual statements into protected opinion. Anyone can do it, but it should probably be the last resort of a newspaper defending its news content.
Margot Cleveland provides an optimistic assessment of Sandmann’s prospects on appeal in the Federalist column “The Covington Catholic Teen Lost His First Court Battle, But Will Probably Win His Next.” I can’t get beyond the court’s confusion of “diffuse” for “defuse” in its opinion and order at the bottom of page 17 (embedded below via Scribd).
Minnesota Fifth District Rep. Ilhan Omar was late piling on Sandmann, but she didn’t want to miss out. She libeled the teenager to an audience of her 450,000 followers on Twitter. When some adult aware of her potential liability for defamation performed an intervention, Omar deleted the Tweet. I captured it in the post “Isn’t it rich?” and followed up in “Ilhan Omar carries on.”
To my knowledge, Omar has yet to apologize for or retract her libel of the young Mr. Sandmann and his schoolmates. That intervention didn’t take. In the video of an interview with Omar on the run in January, she stood by her libel. She essentially reiterated it. Omar proclaimed her message to them: “The message I have for [the Covington Catholic High School students] is that in life often there are consequences on the way that you behave.” This is a message that Omar has never applied to herself.
Since her election to Congress this past November, Omar has become a person of some means. I am probably missing something, but I don’t understand why Sandmann’s attorneys have declined to pursue a claim against her.