Couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of media outlets, political hacks, and dilettante celebrities … but will it happen? Attorneys for the family of Nick Sandmann sent out notices of intent to pursue legal action in the wake of the embarrassingly cooked reporting on the confrontation between Catholic high-school kids, a well-known hate group, and a Native American activist. Attorneys have identified 54 people and entities as targets, from the Catholic diocese that governs Covington Catholic High School to Alyssa Milano, and seemingly all points in between:
The lawyers representing Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann and his family said Friday they have sent letters to media outlets, individual journalists, celebrities and Catholic organizations as the first step in possible libel and defamation lawsuits.
The list includes 50-plus names of organizations or individuals: from presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren to actress Alyssa Milano; individual journalists including Maggie Haberman, Ana Cabrera and David Brooks; national media outlets like the The New York Times, CNN, GQ and TMZ; and the dioceses of Covington and Lexington as well as the archdioceses of Louisville and Baltimore. …
The legal counsel representing Nick and his family, Todd McMurtry and experienced libel and defamation lawyer L. Lin Wood of Atlanta, have said they will seek justice for the harm allegedly done to the teen.
The inclusion of the celebrities and politicians makes for fun reading. Ryan Saavedra has the full list at the Daily Wire for maximum hilarity. Coming in dead last in both wattage and impact is Jim Carrey, who has descended from comic heights to exist mainly as a social-media troll with bad art and worse taste. Even better — Carrey ranks two slots below Kathy Griffin. Clearly he needs new management.
But it’s not just the humorists and entertainers who might be on the hook for a legal fight. The list includes four Catholic dioceses, CNN, NPR, HBO and Bill Maher separately, several NBC reporters but not NBC, several newspapers and their reporters separately, and a number of magazines. Plus, let’s not forget Democrats Elizabeth Warren and her Native American heritage, and new Rep. Ilhan Omar from (ugh) Minnesota.
So how did all these folks make the list? Anyone who “defamed” Sandmann and has deep enough pockets for a lawsuit gets on the list. That means either in coverage or commentary, which Sandmann’s attorneys want to make sure they establish once and for all was false and defamatory:
“They know they crossed the line,” McMurtry said. “Do they want 12 people in Kentucky to decide their fate? I don’t think so.” …
“We want to change the conversation. We don’t want this to happen again,” McMurtry said. “We want to teach people a lesson.”
The process would likely have to be the point. Libel and slander laws make it tough to win, even for non-public persons such as Sandmann. Sullivan doesn’t apply in this case; the respondents in the prospective lawsuits made Sandmann into a public figure without participation from him. That relieves the plaintiff from having to establish “actual malice” toward Sandmann, but they would still have to prove that these media outlets and individuals acted with some form of malice to prevail.
In order to win a libel or defamation action, the plaintiffs have to show that the statements were objectively false, caused financial injury, and weren’t protected speech. The big problem for Sandmann and his attorneys will be the first and second points. Respondents will argue that they thought they had the full story from the first video, and they were at worst simply mistaken rather than acting with intent to defame. They might also argue that even the longer video remains open to a wide variety of interpretations, so there is no objective foundation for legal action. On top of that, what financial injury did a 16-year-old high-school student incur from a week of terrible coverage? His attorneys will argue that Sandmann’s prospects are damaged for life, but it’s going to be difficult to quantify those damages beyond sheer speculation.
It probably won’t get that far, however. Most media outlets won’t want to put these questions in front of a Kentucky jury with a Kentucky teenager clearly bruised by bad journalism and ideological bloodsuckers. They’ll reach some settlement by admitting fault in their coverage and apologizing, plus kick in enough to satisfy the attorneys and give Sandmann a head start on college. It’s a brushback pitch to the celebrities on the list, reminding them that their status doesn’t make them immune from accountability. It gives the rest of us a rooting cause, even if it eventually fades quietly from the scene.
As for teaching them a lesson, well, don’t count on it. The same people will jump into the next feeding frenzy as long as the chum involves pro-lifers, people of faith, Donald Trump or his supporters, or any combination thereof.