A case for a ‘punchable’ face. Can Nick Sandmann win his libel case?

Nick Sandmann was just the average, unknown, Catholic schoolboy attending a pro-life rally in Washington D.C. with his classmates from Convington Catholic School when he was approached by a native American man beating a drum.

Sandmann, in the seemingly uncomfortable exchange, smiled as Nathan Phillips chanted in his face.

The video went viral, with many claiming that Sandmann’s “smug little smirk” deemed him a racist. Countless people attacked the student on social media and spread an entirely false story without seeing both sides of the equation.

What actually happened: the students of Covington Catholic School attended a pro-life rally, a group that called themselves the Black Hebrew Israelites taunted the students and named them “incest babies.” That, is where Phillips shows up. He claimed he was trying to defuse the situation by distracting the boys with his chanting, while Sandmann said he was simply remaining calm and keeping the peace when Phillips approached him.

What’s so infuriating about this whole fiasco was this one simple tweet from an American-Iranian author, Reza Aslan, with a verified Twitter account. It had a picture of Sandmann and he said, “Honest question. Have you ever seen a more punchable face than this kid’s?”

So basically, the one simple crime this minor committed that earned him eternal damnation from thousands of people was his facial expression? The “smug little smirk?”

Let’s point out the grown men who have smirked in the face of the authority such as Peter Strzok. A man who abused their authority and grinned as he was on trial. But no, no outrage. Instead, America chose to lambast a teenager.

Since when did a smirk become a crime?

The question we should ask is, does Sandmann have a good libel case?

It was just reported that L. Lin Wood, who is known for taking on libel and slander lawsuits against the media, was hired by the Sandmann family.  Not only that, but a list of 54 entities was released by Sandmann’s lawyer as potential lawsuit recipients.

Libel is a published statement that is damaging to a person’s reputation or a written defamation seen by more than one person. And anyone attempting a libel lawsuit must prove three things:

1.     The statement was false

2.     The statement caused harm

3.     The statement was made without adequate research into the actual event

All three of these can be proven.

Sandmann plans on suing the person who originally uploaded the video, but he also plans on using the snowball effect — suing everyone else that further spread the lie of the original post.

Second, the post caused Covington Catholic to publicly consider expelling Sandmann only to come to the realization later that only a tiny bit of the story had been uploaded. They quickly apologized for reacting rashly, but the damage had still been done.  

Third, many “verified” accounts on Twitter retweeted the content without doing their due diligence — yes professional journalists contributed to the demise of this young man’s reputation.  One GQ journalist named Nathaniel Friedman called for the kid to be doxed. While a CNN host named S.E. Cupp tweeted, “Hey guys. Seeing all the additional videos now, and I 100% agree reacting too quickly to the Covington story. I wish I’d had the fuller picture before weighing in, and I’m truly sorry.”

Was due diligence really done?

Now, some could make the argument that he was a limited public person because he inserted himself into a controversial event. However, is a pro-life march really that controversial? I don’t believe so. I also don’t believe he should be called a limited public person for going on a trip with his school. It’s also a well-known fact that true, practicing Catholics are so pro-life they don’t even think birth-control should be used. Not so controversial for a Catholic student.

Sandmann only accepted interviews after he had already been thrown into the public eye. The fact is, Sandmann was a private person who was thrust into the spotlight by at least 54 entities on the list the L. Lin Wood released. The list includes: CNN, Bill Maher, Jim Carrey, Elizabeth Warren, etc.

In all honesty, this might not even make it to court. More than likely it will be settled outside of court since about 95% of lawsuits are. Regardless, Sandmann may have a decent case on his hands.

Why don’t we just keep kids out of the spotlight?

Hannah Hutson

Hannah is serving as our fearless leader, Editor-in-Chief, for the second year. She is a senior Journalism & Mass Communications major with a concentration in public relations and a minor in Marketing.