U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Trump uses Twitter to endorse Covington student’s lawsuit against The Washington Post

Incident Details

REUTERS/Madalyn McGarvey

A school marker for Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, Kentucky, where one of its students and his family is suing The Washington Post, a move endorsed by President Trump on social media.

— REUTERS/Madalyn McGarvey
July 24, 2020 - Update

Washington Post settles defamation suit

On July 24, 2020, The Washington Post settled a $250 million libel suit brought against the paper by Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann.

A spokesperson for the newspaper told The New York Times, “We are pleased that we have been able to reach a mutually agreeable resolution of the remaining claims in this lawsuit.”

The details of the settlement have not been made public.

The suit was brought in March 2019 by Sandmann and his family after the high schooler was part of the news organization’s coverage of marches at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

A federal judge initially dismissed the suit in July 2019, finding that the Post’s articles and tweets were protected under the First Amendment, but reversed the decision after the Sandmann family filed an amended complaint, according to the Times.

Sandmann also brought a case against CNN — which agreed to a confidential settlement in January — as well as ABC News, CBS News, the Times, Gannett and Rolling Stone.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly voiced his support for Sandmann’s suit and has vowed to take a “strong look” at libel laws.

October 28, 2019 - Update

A previously dismissed libel suit against the Washington Post is reinstated with narrowed scope

The judge who previously dismissed a $250 million dollar lawsuit against The Washington Post reinstated the suit, but with a narrowed scope, on Oct. 28, 2019, according to the Post.

The family of a Kentucky teenager is alleging the newspaper libeled the teen in its coverage of him earlier this year.

The Post reported that Judge William O. Bertelsman reinstated part of the lawsuit, allowing discovery to proceed on three published statements, a reduction from the 33 statements in the original suit.

President Donald Trump, who tweeted his support of the lawsuit when it was filed in February, took to Twitter to support its reinstatement, calling the news outlet “thoroughly disgusting.”

July 26, 2019 - Update

Judge dismisses libel suit against The Washington Post

On July 26, 2019, Kentucky Federal Judge William O. Bertelsman dismissed a $250 million libel suit against The Washington Post, the paper reported.

The suit was brought in March by Nicholas Sandmann and his family after the high schooler was part of the new organization’s coverage of marches at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington which went viral.

The judge ruled that the Post’s articles and tweets were protected under the First Amendment.

“From our first story on this incident to our last, we sought to report fairly and accurately the facts that could be established from available evidence, the perspectives of all of the participants, and the comments of the responsible church and school officials,” Shani George, the Post’s director of communications said in its report on the ruling. “We are pleased that the case has been dismissed.”

February 20, 2019

A Kentucky teen and his family have sued The Washington Post, seeking $250 million in damages for its coverage of his involvement in an encounter with a Native American advocate at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., in January 2019.

Filed on Feb. 19, the complaint alleges that the Post “targeted and bullied” 16-year-old Nicholas Sandmann because he was white, Catholic and wearing a “Make America Great Again” cap in order to advance the paper’s biased agenda against President Donald Trump.

“In a span of three days in January of this year commencing on January 19, the Post engaged in a modern-day form of McCarthyism by competing with CNN and NBC, among others, to claim leadership of a mainstream and social media mob of bullies with attacked, vilified, and threatened Nicholas Sandmann, an innocent secondary school child,” states the complaint.

The complaint cites seven articles published by the Post between Jan. 19 and 21, as well as the tweets posted to promote the articles. On March 1, the Post released an editor's note about its coverage around Sandmann and his Covington Catholic High School schoolmates, saying additional reporting, statements and video allowed for “a more complete assessment of what occurred.”

The day after the suit was filed, President Trump tweeted out his support for the lawsuit and repeating his refrain that the Post is “fake news.”

Trump has had a combative relationship with the Post since at least December 2015, referring to it as a “scam,” “phony” and “fake news.” The president has also repeatedly maligned the news outlet indirectly by referring to it as the “#AmazonWashingtonPost” and targeting the newspaper’s owner, Jeff Bezos.

The family is seeking $250 million in damages because, the complaint states, that is the amount Bezos paid for the newspaper when he purchased it in 2013.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].