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from the this-is-just-bad dept

Earlier this year, we wrote about the bizarre reporting on the confidential settlement between CNN and Nick Sandmann, the high school student whose encounter in Washington DC became an internet sensations based initially on a short video that many suggested misrepresented the encounter and others argued did not misrepresent it at all. It was all a matter of perspective, though many people eventually came to the reasonable conclusion that there was a knee-jerk reaction in the initial coverage that was perhaps unfair to Sandmann. Indeed, many, many people admitted that they shouldn’t have jumped to conclusions so quickly without knowing the full story.

Of course, what’s funny is how many of Sandmann’s supporters are now jumping to opposite conclusions without knowing the full story of settlements.

Sometime after the whole kerfuffle around Sandmann, he filed highly questionable defamation lawsuits against the Washington Post, CNN, and NBC. CNN settled in early January, but the details were confidential. A settlement could literally mean that no money exchanged hands, or possibly a tiny amount did. Or maybe a large amount did. Given the details of the case, it would be shocking if any significant amount of money exchanged hands, because CNN was going to win the case easily. But it’s still expensive to go through that process, so it’s often much easier to just pay up a little bit to make the case go away.

The Washington Post case was initially thrown out as none of the statements were seen to be defamatory. A much narrower amended complaint reinstated the case, but was still unlikely to succeed. However, again, at some point it’s going to be cheaper to settle, and now it appears that the Washington Post chose to settle — again with the details kept confidential. Again, I’d be shocked if any significant amount of money changed hands, but no one knows for sure.

What I can say for sure is that the reporting by the NY Post, by reporter Ebony Bowden, about the settlement comes about as close to journalistic malpractice as any article I’ve seen. The entire framing of the article suggests that the Washington Post agreed to pay Sandmann $250 million. The headline says “Washington Post settles $250M suit with Covington teen Nick Sandmann” implying that the only options were to fight the case or pay $250 million. That’s not how any of this works. The text of the article is just as bad, other than a buried sentence saying that “it’s unclear how much newspaper settled for.” The rest of the article just keeps hitting on the giant numbers that he asked for which have nothing at all to do with whatever settlement was made.

The Washington Post on Friday agreed to settle a monster $250 million lawsuit filed by Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann over its botched coverage of his 2019 encounter with a Native American elder.

Sandmann declared the victory in a tweet on his 18th birthday. It’s unclear how much the newspaper settled for.

[….]

It’s the teen’s second win in a whopping $800 million defamation battle against a number of news outlets including the Washington Post, CNN, ABC, CBS, The Guardian, The Hill and NBC.

CNN agreed to settle with Sandmann in January this year as part of a separate $275 million claim.

All those huge numbers are the amount he asked for. But lawsuits always ask for a ton of money. They don’t always get them. And there is no way that Sandmann got anywhere near those numbers in any settlement. Indeed, settlements can be for $0 dollars (ask me how I know). It’s not even uncommon for plaintiffs who file for crazy amounts to settle for $0, if the details are kept confidential, just so they can claim a victory. I don’t know if that happened here. If I had to guess, I’d guess that the Washington Post paid a nominal amount to get Nick and his lawyers to go away, at a cost significantly less than it would have taken to fight (and win) this lawsuit. Because that’s how these things usually happen.

But, thanks to the framing of the NY Post, tons of people on social media are immediately jumping to conclusions that Sandmann got many many millions.

Of course, the real irony here is that the NY Post and all of these people are doing the exact same thing that they accused the media of doing to Sandmann in the first place: making assumptions without knowing the full details of the context or what actually happened.

Filed Under: anti-slapp, defamation, ebodny bowden, journalism, lin wood, nick sandmann, settlement, slapp, todd mcmurtry
Companies: washington post

Categories: Technology