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Covington suit against Washington Post risks chilling free speech, press when needed most, journalism professor says

Friday, February 22, 2019

LAWRENCE — A high school student from Covington, Kentucky, who was featured in a video confrontation with a Native American elder that went viral has filed a defamation suit against the Washington Post. The suit claims the newspaper falsely accused him of instigating the confrontation and racist acts in the incident that was filmed at the Lincoln Memorial. The suit filed by Covington Catholic student Nicholas Sandmann seeks $250 million in damages.

The suit claims the newspaper “wrongfully targeted and bullied” Sandmann to advance a bias against President Donald Trump. A University of Kansas journalism professor is available to discuss the lawsuit, libel, media law, the incident in Washington, reporting on the incident, Sandmann’s burden of proof in the case and related topics.

Genelle Belmas, associate professor of journalism, researches media law and teaches courses in media law, media ethics, communications technology and gamification.

“Nicholas Sandmann's suit against the Washington Post demonstrates that the political climate under the Trump administration has emboldened certain individuals not only to bring hidden racism, classism and other ugly prejudices into public, but to sue what they derisively call the ‘mainstream media’ when it reports negatively on them,” Belmas said. “Coupled with Justice Clarence Thomas' recent comments on how he would reconsider New York Times v. Sullivan, the landmark 1964 libel case which provides robust protections to the press when it investigates public officials, cases like Sandmann's run the risk of chilling free speech and press at a time when our democracy needs it most.”

Belmas has published research in the Yale Journal of Law & Technology, the Federal Communications Law Journal and Communication Law and Policy, and her work has been cited by several appellate courts. She is also the author of the textbook Major Principles of Media Law.

To schedule an interview, contact Mike Krings at 785-864-8860 or mkrings@ku.edu.

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