News & Politics

Lawyer for Covington Catholic Families Gives Media 48 Hours to 'Retract and Correct' Smears

Robert Barnes, the lawyer representing the Covington Catholic High School kids who were smeared by the media, is warning reporters, celebrities, and others with large media platforms that they have until Friday to correct the record, or they will be sued.

Because of their sloppy reporting of what transpired in Washington, D.C., when two groups of protesters confronted a group of Catholic high school students who were waiting to catch a bus last Friday, the teens and their families have become the subjects of ongoing threats and harassment from a hateful online outrage mob.

On Fox and Friends Wednesday morning, Barnes, who is representing the families at no cost, explained that because the kids are private citizens and minors, anything someone says about them that is false can be libel, according to the law. Rather than proving malice, “all you have to prove is negligence,” he said.

So a lot of these journalists have been saying false statements about these kids, false statements about the kids that were at the Lincoln Memorial, false statements about kids that were in various photographs related to the school, slurring and libeling the entire school and all the alumni for the school, and all you have to prove is they were negligent in doing so and by this standpoint, by this point in time, it is clear that anyone who continues to lie and libel about these kids has done so illegally and can be sued for it.

Barnes said he was representing the families in a possible class-action lawsuit pro bono because libel lawsuits are difficult for average citizens to bring as they are very expensive. “They cost between a quarter of a million and a million dollars in legal fees to bring,” he explained. “So I wanted to equalize the playing field. These are people who couldn’t afford to bring this claim on their own behalf. That’s why I offered my services for free because somebody needed to stop this from reoccurring.”

The attorney stated he was giving the the libelers 48 hours to correct and retract their smears.

“Everybody now is on 48-hour notice. So by Friday everybody needs to retract and correct any false statements they have issued about these kids. That includes any major member of the media, that includes any major celebrity, that includes anybody with a substantial social media platform. If you’ve said anything false about these kids, they are willing to extend you a 48-hour time period — a period of grace consistent with their Christian faith — for you to, through confession, get redemption and retract and correct and apologize.”

The lawyer warned that if libelers don’t do this by Friday, they may be “a defendant in a lawsuit because those lawsuits will start to occur next week.”

When asked to put a dollar amount on the damages the families are seeking, Barnes replied: “The nice thing about defamation law is that when a particular form of lie or libel is particularly inflammatory, you’re allowed to seek what’s called per se damages. This means you don’t have to prove any individual damages to you. It’s just that it’s so offensive that the jury gets to assign what those damages are.”

He added that “those damages can range from $50,000 to $300,000 to, in the Gawker case, millions and millions of dollars. So all these people that have lied and libeled better be checking their bank accounts if they’re going to continue to lie and libel these kids.”

The attorney said that one of the people he was looking at is Maggie Haberman, a reporter for the powerful and influential New York Times.

“She falsely made statements about these kids. She basically invited their expulsion from school, the ruining of their reputations. She did so based on inadequate review of the information, a failure to look at the evidence, and despite knowing from her own newspaper how false those original statements are, she has yet to retract, yet to correct, yet to apologize, and she’ll be one of the people sued if she doesn’t do it in the next 48 hours.”

Barnes told the Fox and Friends hosts that he is representing three different groups of families: the kids “who were at the Lincoln Memorial who have been libeled”; families of kids who have been in some of the photos and had false statements made about them based on those photos; and “alumni who feel that their entire school and everything associated with them has been libeled and they too want to seek legal remedy for these people who refuse to correct, retract or make any apology for their false statements.”