November 22, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Pro-life teen Nick Sandmann’s defamation suit against NBCUniversal for NBC News’ coverage of him and his classmates at this year’s March for Life can proceed, according to a federal judge, though not every aspect of the lawsuit was cleared.
Immediately after the January March for Life in Washington, D.C., the press erupted with claims that a video showed boys from a Catholic school in Kentucky harassing Nathan Phillips, a Native American activist, outside the Lincoln Memorial. But additional extended video and firsthand accounts soon revealed that Phillips was the one who waded into the group waiting for its bus and decided to beat a drum inches from Sandmann’s face, while the boys had merely performed school cheers in hopes of drowning out racist taunts from members of the Black Hebrew Israelites fringe group.
As additional video came to light and many journalists and other public figures quickly deleted their snap condemnations of the students, while some have either tried to keep the original narrative alive or refused to unequivocally retract or apologize for their initial claims, leading to various lawsuits on behalf of the boys.
Among the targets is NBCUniversal, against which attorneys representing Sandmann are seeking $275 million in damages for its role in feeding a “false narrative.” On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge William Bertelsman dismissed some aspects of the suit but allowed discovery to proceed on the network’s coverage claiming that Sandmann “blocked” Phillips from leaving, the The Washington Times reported.
“The court finds that the statements that plaintiff ‘blocked’ Phillips or did not allow him to retreat, if false, meet the test of being libelous per se under the definition quoted above,” Bertelsman wrote.
Sandmann’s attorneys celebrated the development on Twitter:
As predicted, today Judge Bertelsman entered an order allowing the Nicholas Sandmann case against NBCUniversal to proceed to discovery just as he had earlier ruled with respect to WaPo & CNN cases. Huge, huge win!
— Lin Wood (@LLinWood) November 21, 2019
The court spelled out a very clear pathway to liability. It's all good.
— Todd V. McMurtry (@ToddMcMurtry) November 22, 2019
Back in July, Bertelsman dismissed another suit by Sandmann against The Washington Post on the grounds that its initial coverage didn’t specifically mention Sandmann by name, that its language was constitutionally-protected “rhetorical hyperbole,” and that while Phillips’ version of events may have been “erroneous,” the Post reporting on his “opinion” fell within the First Amendment’s scope. Last month, however, he partially reversed himself and allowed that suit to proceed to the discovery phase, as well.
As various media figures either tried to keep the original narrative alive or refused to unequivocally retract or apologize for their initial claims, attorneys representing the students have filed defamation suits against numerous other media outlets and public figures, including CNN, NBC Universal, Democrat presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman, comedian Kathy Griffin, ABC News’s Matthew Dowd, Princeton University’s Kevin Kruse, left-wing activist Shaun King, and Rewire editor-in-chief Jodi Jacobson.