One week after a federal judge dismissed a defamation lawsuit filed by Nicholas Sandmann against The Washington Post, eight unidentified Covington High School students filed a defamation suit against 12 public figures, including journalists and news media figures like CNN commentator Ana Navarro, New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman and more.
In the suit, filed in Kentucky’s Kenton County Circuit Court, attorneys Robert Barnes and Kevin Murphy explained the decision to turn to litigation after students on a field trip to Washington, D.C., were widely criticized for their interaction with a Native American protester in January.
“Several of our Senators, most-famous celebrities, and widely read journalists, collectively used their large social media platforms, perceived higher credibility and public followings to lie and libel minors they never met, based on an event they never witnessed. These defendants called for the kids to be named and shamed, doxxed and expelled, and invited public retaliation against these minors from a small town in Kentucky,” they wrote.
They continued, “The defendants circulated false statements about them to millions of people around the world. The video of the entire event, known to the defendants, exposed all of their factual claims against the kids as lies. The defendants were each individually offered the opportunity to correct, delete, and/or apologize for their false statements, but each refused, continuing to circulate the false statements about these children to this very day on their social media platforms they personally control.”
The 12 figures named in the suit are these:
- Sen. Elizabeth Warren
- Rep. Deb Haaland
- Ana Navarro of CNN
- Maggie Haberman of the New York Times
- Kathy Griffin
- Matthew Dowd of ABC News
- Reza Aslan
- Adam Edelen
- Kevin M. Kruse
- Shaun King
- Clara Jeffery of Mother Jones
- Jodi Jacobson of Rewire.News
Aslan and King are also published journalists. Over half of the defendants are affiliated with the news media.
A representative for Rewire, where Jacobson serves as editor-in-chief, declined to comment. A representative for the New York Times told TheWrap, “Ms. Haberman has not yet been served with this complaint. The lawsuit is entirely without merit and we will vigorously defend it if necessary.”
Other defendants did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s request for comment.
Shortly after the January incident went viral, journalist Erik Abriss publicly wished for the death of several Covington students and their parents. He was fired. Other media figures issued retractions or corrections for their statements on the incident in January.
As noted by Law&Crime on January 21, CNN’s S.E. Cupp tweeted, “Hey guys. Seeing all the additional videos now, and I 100% regret reacting too quickly to the Covington story. I wish I’d had the fuller picture before weighing in, and I’m truly sorry.”
Attorney Robert Barnes quoted the tweet, writing on Jan. 21, “Good apology. More needed. Don’t want to get sued? Retract, correct. Do it now.”
Passions ran high on social media when the video first emerged, showing several students from Covington, many of whom were wearing “Make America Great Again” hats, surrounding a Native American elder who was in Washington, D.C., for the Indigenous Peoples’ March. Many viewers believed the teens were attempting to taunt the elder, Nathan Phillips.
Later, additional video was released showing that Phillips had walked up to the teenagers. He said he was trying to defuse a confrontation between them and another group. One of the teens, Nick Sandmann, issued a statement saying he had not sought the confrontation and bore no ill will to Phillips. By that time, the Covington students had become the target of scorn online.
Barnes told Law&Crime each defendant was given the chance to retract or correct their previous statements about the incident. He did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s request for comment.