NY Post's Journalistic Malpractice: Misleading Reporting On Nick Sandmann's Washington Post Settlement

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.

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Comments on “NY Post's Journalistic Malpractice: Misleading Reporting On Nick Sandmann's Washington Post Settlement”

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39 Comments
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That One Guy (profile) says:

'But... it's different when we do it...'

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.

Beat me to it, as I was scrolling past the various tweets I couldn’t help but find it all sorts of funny that the same people who were crying foul for people ‘misreading’ the original event because they didn’t have enough information are now crowing about a ‘win’ without knowing any real information.

I guess jumping to conclusions based upon limited information is only a terrible thing when other people do it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Time to Wait

(Mike, for the love of god, please set it so hitting enter on the subject line does not post the comment)

Mike, I think you should have waited to publish this article until you knew the full details. Who knows, maybe the kid did get the full amount, or maybe the settlement was nothing more than a paper exchange. Isn’t it poor journalism to publish something so soon without knowing all the details. How many times have we been through this?

(/s for those who were not here for one of the original posts.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Funny when I read the article on the Washington Post (and other news outlets) I never never never got the impression that he made lots of money, if any money. I’m beginning to think that anyone who comments on posts on twitter are idiots. Anyone with half a brain knows that a settlement is rarely if ever for the amount being asked. I find no fault with the Post article only fault with people who assumed he did win a lot of money and people who misread the Post article and assume it implied something it didn’t. Learn how to read.

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Bloof (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Misleading was the point. The people who read the post will infer that the kid earned millions and will go on to repeat that as fact until it’s accepted as such because it can’t be disproven due to NDA’s. No doubt the intent is to make independent journalists and smaller outlets think twice before reporting on right wing misbehaviour.

They likely paid him a few thousand to make him go away rather than run up millions in legal fees they’ll never recover when they win.

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Hugo S Cunningham (profile) says:

Re: Re: Malpractice, but hardly the worst

My comment was about coverage of the Sandmann/ Covington affair.

If I had brought in Walter Duranty’s cover up of Stalin’s Collectivization famine, then that would be arguably be whataboutism. But the original poster’s phrase "as close to journalistic malpractice as any article I’ve seen" invites wider comparisons.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Toom1275 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Malpractice, but hardly the worst

The subject of the article: NY Post spreading a false story that harms the innocent, as it does

Asshole: Let me downplay the Post‘s malfeasance by bringing up [unrelated frothing at the mouth bullshit]

Do you understand now? Or do we need to break out the crayons for you?

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re:

false stories that harm or threaten real innocent people, like the original coverage of the fake Vietnam veteran’s confrontation of Sandmann

Nothing about the original coverage of the story was “false”, in that it was an outright lie. Did it lack context? Yes. But the original coverage had only the initial video to work with. The press didn’t lie about what they saw, even if they didn’t have proper context for what they saw.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Cool story... But categorically false

The full video was made available at nearly the same time as the shortened, out of context video posted on Twitter. And in fact, the initial defenses of Sandman, which were based on a viewing the full video, started the same weekend the shortened video had ‘gone viral.’

And even with the context of the full video, for over a week after the event there were still news programming accusing Sandman of racism at worst, to ‘aggressive smiling’ at its most banal.

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Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

The full video was made available at nearly the same time as the shortened, out of context video posted on Twitter.

That makes an explicit lie out of what people reported based on the shortened video that everyone (including reporters) saw first…how, exactly? And as far as opinions about Sandmann go, well…

And even with the context of the full video, for over a week after the event there were still news programming accusing Sandman of racism at worst, to ‘aggressive smiling’ at its most banal

…if an MSNBC talking head said they thought Sandmann a racist even though they knew the context of the full video, they’re still legally allowed to express that opinion.

Nothing reported by news outlets that were…less than charitable to Sandmann in their initial reporting rises to the level of being an explicit, malicious, published-with-defamatory-intent lie. That’d be like saying any journalist who initially reported on some form of breaking news “lied” because they reported what they saw/heard instead of waiting for confirmation of every minute detail. Could those outlets have done a better job of reporting on the situation? Absolutely. Did those outlets intentionally defame Sandmann? Absolutely not.

Hugo S Cunningham (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

In terms of ethics rather than libel case law, this was an underage kid (and his school) exposed to the full fury of the national Internet. The school were so scared (with good reason) that they threw the kid to the wolves (though they would take him back once the truth emerged). It used to be considered unethical to publish the identity of juvenile murderers; are kids belonging to disfavored groups (eg the Religious Right) to be treated worse?

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Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

It used to be considered unethical to publish the identity of juvenile murderers; are kids belonging to disfavored groups (eg the Religious Right) to be treated worse?

Belonging to a “disfavored” group doesn’t violate any laws. I see nothing unethical about identifying someone who belongs to such a group should that someone become a newsworthy figure. Besides, by your logic, Greta Thunberg should have her identity withheld from the press only and specifically because she is a juvenile and plenty of people “disfavor” her political stances on global climate change.

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PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

The fact that you think her attempt to get action taken on climate change was about her seeking personal publicity says a lot about where you’re getting your news. She wasn’t known until the media decided to focus on her rather than the simple message she was trying to convey (which was "listen to the scientists", not "listen to me").

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John85851 (profile) says:

And people wonder why click-bait headlines work

This is the perfect example of our click-bait headline, lack of reading comprehension, rush to judgement society.

When I read the headline, I immediately thought "Okay, they settled a $250 million lawsuit, I guess I’ll read the article for the settlement details".
But instead, all these other people immediately thought "settled FOR $250 million" without really reading.
And look, their posts are getting attention and retweeted and so on… not bad for a lack of reading comprehension.

Anonymous Coward says:

“ 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.”

Yeah, destroying a kid’s life by smearing him all over the news is EXACTLY the same as a few idiots getting details wrong regarding lawsuits against giant corporations. Got it.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Yeah, destroying a kid’s life by smearing him all over the news is EXACTLY the same as a few idiots getting details wrong regarding lawsuits against giant corporations. Got it.

Oh come off it. His life was hardly "destroyed." He’s become a celebrity among idiots like yourself. How has his life been destroyed? Even among the publications that mocked him, nearly all ran follow up stories saying that there was more context that came out later.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Oh come off it. His life was hardly "destroyed." He’s become a celebrity among idiots like yourself. How has his life been destroyed?

Right, becoming a "celebrity" among people who respect him for standing up for himself rather than apologizing for something that didn’t happen or just hunkering down and hoping things blow over totally makes up for an avalanche of people claiming he’s a filthy racist who should be expelled from school, brutally beaten, or even murdered for the crime of standing there and attempting to smile inoffensively as some weirdo got up in his face.

Even among the publications that mocked him, nearly all ran follow up stories saying that there was more context that came out later.

Right, because nearly all of them is the same as all of them. Retractions totally fix everything. The "we fucked up and published blatant lies we didn’t adequately check" stories totally always receive the same prominence the initial blatant lies did, and everyone who read the initial story reads the retractions. Such retractions will definitely prevent people like yourself from acting like he did something wrong months or years later. Certainly no colleges or jobs he applies to will look at him and go "Oh yeah, that racist kid. Fuck him." rather than "Oh yeah, that kid that was falsely accused of being a racist by some nutjob that was trying to start something."

Ken Justison says:

Re: Re: Re:

I lost a number of friends over this and until he sued them he must have been scared to death. I’m 67′ and if I confronted a child like Phillips did I would be in trouble and rightly so . There was a DJ who wanted to lock them in a church and set fire to them. No big deal huh if you think that burning children alive is acceptable you are a piece of shit. This bitching about the amount of a settlement when you don’t know what he got is speculation ,but you put yourself on the pedestal of I know. If you do know then Sandman has grounds to go back for more.

Tec says:

Journalistic malpractice? Look in the mirror

The NYP headline was 100% accurate. You have interpreted the story in a way that you feel puts CNN in a bad light. It’s crystal clear which horse you are backing in this situation. The lawsuit was $250 million. The case was settled. How is this false? Your article is a joke! Pathetic. The only one committing journalistic malpractice is you. But I don’t know if you can even be considered a journalist writing for this rag. I’d rather read the local high school paper which has more journalistic integrity than your puke. You are a joke!!

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