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Washington Post issues editor’s note, but no apology, on Covington Catholic coverage

March 2, 2019

The Washington Post issued an extensive editor’s note Friday and deleted a Tweet related to its early reports on the Covington Catholic students, two weeks after the newspaper was hit with a defamation lawsuit by a teen who became the face of incident at the Lincoln Memorial.

The newspaper did not, however, apologize for its stories about the Jan. 18 episode, explaining that accounts in its initial coverage were challenged by ensuing developments and 16-year-old Nicholas Sandmann’s statement about his encounter with Omaha Nation elder Nathan Phillips.

“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,” said the editor’s note posted late Friday.

The note continued: “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 has issued an Editor’s Note about updates to its initial coverage of the Jan. 18 incident at the Lincoln Memorial: https://t.co/rhzKZ1715KWe’ve also deleted this Jan. 19 tweet in light of later developments. For more, see the Editor’s Note. pic.twitter.com/O7qCSnBMPO The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) March 1, 2019

Attorney L. Lin Wood, who represents Nicholas Sandmann and his parents in the $250 million lawsuit along with attorney Todd V. McMurtry, tweeted Friday that he would have a response Monday to the Washington Post’s action.

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

In its editor’s note, the newspaper also listed subsequent articles giving a fuller account of the incident; deleted a Jan. 19 Tweet, and pointed out that it already issued a correction about Mr. Phillips’s status in the Vietnam War.

The deleted Tweet said, “Phillips, who fought in the Vietnam War, says in an interview, ’I started going that way, and that guy in the hat stood in my way and we were at an impasse. He just blocked my way and wouldn’t allow me to retreat.”

Initial reports said that the teens harassed Mr. Phillips, but in his Jan. 23 statement, Mr. Sandmann said that the older man approached him. Video footage showed Mr. Phillips walked toward the teens and entered their cheer circle.

“He locked eyes with me and approached me, coming within inches of my face. He played his drum the entire time he was in my face,” said the student’s statement.

A spokeswoman for the Washington Post said last month that the newspaper plans to fight the defamation lawsuit.

Attorneys for the Sandmanns sent letters last month warning of a potential lawsuit to 54 media entities, reporters, politicians, celebrities andthe diocese, but so far only the Washington Post has been sued.

The teens were waiting for buses back to Covington, Kentucky, after attending the March for Life, while Mr. Phillips had participated in the Indigenous Peoples March. The two events were held the same day.