After about a month and a half and plenty of evidence to prove their initial reporting on the Covington Catholic incident at the Lincoln Memorial was incorrect, The Washington Post issued an “editor’s note” regarding the situation last week.
Not an apology. Not a correction. Not a retraction. An “editor’s note.”
In fact, it seems like they felt the whole thing wasn’t really worth addressing, and did so now only because they were the subject of a $250 million lawsuit from the family of Covington Catholic student Nicholas Sandmann. As for Sandmann’s attorney, he thought that the non-apology apology was “barely worth comment.”
First, the editor’s note, which really should have been titled: “Democracy dies in vagueness.”
“A Washington Post article first posted online on Jan. 19 reported on a Jan. 18 incident at the Lincoln Memorial. 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 note read.
The additional video, of course, showed Sandmann hadn’t done anything wrong:
“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 Post said. “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.'”
“A Jan. 22 correction to the original story reads: Earlier versions of this story incorrectly said that Native American activist Nathan Phillips fought in the Vietnam War. Phillips said he served in the U.S. Marines but was never deployed to Vietnam,” the note added.
The whole thing is even less than Cliff’s Notes to what the WaPo swung and missed on. There was only one official correction mentioned — one which was very obvious. The facts in the stories mentioned, which were a lot more damaging to the paper’s case than The Post let on here, weren’t actually enumerated and no real apology was made. Notice how they said that “additional video allow(ed) for a more complete assessment of what occurred,” not that they reported on a story without enough video to make an assessment.
They’re admitting they made mistakes somewhere along the line without being remotely specific about what any of those mistakes were. They also released this note a month and a half after the incident at exactly 5:17 on a Friday night, when clearly no one is stuck in traffic while heading out of work. They’re not burying this at all.
And even they seemed to think admitting what they did was too much.
“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,” Washington Post Vice President for Communications Kristine Corrati Kelly told Reason’s Robby Soave.
It doesn’t seem to have addressed the concerns of Sandmann’s attorney, however.
“What The Washington Post put out is barely worth comment,” Todd McMurtry, one of the teen’s lawyers, told Reason.
“WaPo committed gross journalistic malpractice and cannot undo its deeds with an editor’s note that purports to correct the record over a month after it led a frenzied mob in trashing a minor’s reputation. The Sandmanns would never accept half of a half-measure from an organization that still refuses to own up to its error.”
Another attorney for Sandmann, L. Lin Wood, promised a fuller response on Monday but gave a rather thorough preview of what he might be saying via Twitter:
Washington Post “deletes” false tweet & immediately reposts it. The act of an arrogant, non-contrite bully. Media bully learns no lesson until it pays for damage, unequivocally admits wrongdoing & pledges to never again bully & falsely attack child without proper investigation. https://t.co/ArsYDalAms
— Lin Wood (@LLinWood) March 2, 2019
On behalf of Nicholas Sandmann & his family, Todd McMurtry @FitLwyr 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. https://t.co/ArsYDalAms
— Lin Wood (@LLinWood) March 2, 2019
Regular readers will note that I’m highly skeptical Sandmann will get anywhere near the $250 million he’s suing for. That said, my estimation of what he will end up receiving gets higher by the day. This is becoming dangerously reminiscent of the Hulk Hogan sex tape suit that killed Gawker.
It isn’t just that Sandmann has a case, it’s that the publication he has a case against doesn’t seem to particularly realize they’ve done anything wrong, legally or morally.
That’s mildly suicidal in the court of public opinion, but in an actual court, in front of a jury, this kind of attitude is what ends up getting $250 million judgments levied against you.
I’m not quite sure what “characterizations and contentions” The Post’s suzerains “do not accept.” If it’s that they rushed a story into publication knowing full well they were likely going to make national villains out of students that may have been (and in fact, were) minors without having the necessary context, that’s hardly even a question anymore.
They blew it. They acknowledged it, albeit in the weakest possible terms. Good luck trying to make this defense work for you guys. As of right now, McMurtry is right: It’s “barely worth comment.”
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