The Washington Post added a lengthy editor’s note Friday to its initial report on the January encounter between a Native American activist and a group of students from Kentucky’s Covington Catholic High School. The note lays out how the story developed as “subsequent reporting” and other information allowed for “a more complete assessment.”
“A Washington Post article first posted online on Jan. 19 reported on a Jan. 18 incident at the Lincoln Memorial,” the note began. “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,” the statement continues. “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.’”
The editor’s note was added to the Post’s digital site at 5:17 p.m. Friday evening, prompting a Drudge Report headline: “Paper Dumps Covington Coverage Note On Friday Evening…” which appears to refer to the common PR practice of posting news late on a Friday in hopes it won’t be noticed. Also on Friday, the Post deleted its initial tweet about the story, and tweeted a correction.
One of the students at the center of the story, Covington junior Nicholas Sandmann, filed a $250 million defamation lawsuit against the Post in February. Sandmann’s attorney, Lin Wood, told TheWrap after the post added the editor’s note: “On behalf of Nicholas Sandmann & his family, Todd McMurtry and I will issue a formal statement on Monday responding to the actions taken today by The Washington Post & a letter received late this evening from its general counsel.”
And in its own statement, a Washington Post spokesperson said: “While we do not accept the characterizations and contentions regarding our reporting of the incident at the Lincoln Memorial, we have taken steps to address the concerns expressed to us. The full story did not emerge all at once and throughout our coverage, we sought to produce accurate reports. Even the comments of the school and church officials changed, and The Post provided ongoing coverage of the conflicting versions of this event and its aftermath, giving prominent attention to the student’s account and the investigative findings supporting it. We thus have provided a fair and accurate historical record of how this incident unfolded.”
In January, a video was posted online that appeared to show Sandmann, who was wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat, and other students confronting Phillips during a demonstration in Washington, D.C.. Sandmann and the other students were attending an anti-abortion march; Phillips was attending the Indigenous Peoples’ March on the same day.
The clip sparked widespread outrage and condemnation, but Sandmann denied any racist intent, and later told the Associated Press he was trying to de-escalate the situation. A longer video of the incident posted Jan. 21 showed that Phillips and his group had first initiated the encounter with the Covington students, and that the students had earlier been subjected to harassment from a different organization.
Several media figures subsequently disavowed their initial statements about the incident. The National Review retracted its initial coverage, and apologized to the students. And the Twitter account that first shared the edited version of the encounter was subsequently suspended for violating the site’s policy against “fake and misleading accounts.”