News & Politics

Facing a $250M Lawsuit, Washington Post Walks Back Its Covington Story

Does the Washington Post think that this “Editor’s Note” will save it from a massive lawsuit payout?

A Washington Post article first posted online on Jan. 19 reported on a Jan. 18 incident at the Lincoln Memorial. Subsequent reporting, a student’s statement and additional video allow for a more complete assessment of what occurred, either contradicting or failing to confirm accounts provided in that story — including that Native American activist Nathan Phillips was prevented by one student from moving on, that his group had been taunted by the students in the lead-up to the encounter, and that the students were trying to instigate a conflict. The high school student facing Phillips issued a statement contradicting his account; the bishop in Covington, Ky., apologized for the statement condemning the students; and an investigation conducted for the Diocese of Covington and Covington Catholic High School found the students’ accounts consistent with videos. Subsequent Post coverage, including video, reported these developments: Viral standoff between a tribal elder and a high schooler is more complicated than it first seemed”; “Kentucky bishop apologizes to Covington Catholic students, says he expects their exoneration”; “Investigation finds no evidence of ‘racist or offensive statements’ in Mall incident.

A Jan. 22 correction to the original story reads: Earlier versions of this story incorrectly said that Native American activist Nathan Phillips fought in the Vietnam War. Phillips said he served in the U.S. Marines but was never deployed to Vietnam.

Basically, the Post is admitting it made an error. But I don’t see an apology, do you?

It isn’t so much inaccurate reporting that’s the problem here. Reporters sometimes get it wrong and in a rush to be first with the story, they make mistakes.

This was not one of those kinds of mistakes. The issue is that the Post had a preconceived bias before the story was even written. They assumed the story told by Phillips was the truth. They believed him because he was an “activist” for an oppressed minority and rushed to judgment, smearing a bunch of kids from a small Catholic high school who acted appropriately given the circumstances.

The Post isn’t alone, of course. The TV news networks and other major newspapers all rushed to judgment on a story without checking the facts. It took conservative news sites and blogs to expose the media’s blatant bias, finally forcing them to climb down and admit they were wrong.

The paper is being sued by one of the students, Nick Sandmann, for a whopping $250 million. Other suits are expected. If the only way to “reform” journalism in this country is by threatening to bankrupt them, so be it.