Speaking at a Florida Governor Ron DeSantis roundtable on media defamation on Tuesday, former Covington Catholic student Nick Sandmann spoke on his experience with the media’s reaction to a viral clip from 2019 showing him and other students at the March for Life.
Sandmann told DeSantis that on the bus ride back to Kentucky at 3 am he found out that a clip showing himself standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial wearing a "MAGA" hat as Native American man Nathan Phillips approached Sandmann face-to-face and banged on drums went viral.
The media called Sandmann and his fellow classmates names, saying that Sandmann had a "punchable face," and branding him as a "racist" aggressor, despite taking no action.
"There were already pictures of my face Photoshopped on to lunch counter protests during the Civil Rights Movement," Sandmann said, adding that "I was very confused because I hadn’t even said anything, I had stood there until our bus came and I had gone home."
"One of the arguments that I’ve heard in defense of what they’ve done is that, well, this was an updated story. So we were giving the information we had at the time, but that conflicts with what they want to do, which is to sell copies, get clicks, they want the revenue, and so it’s got to be inflammatory, but they’re also saying, well, we were only telling you what we knew at the time," said Sandmann.
Sandmannn added that "those two don’t work together," saying that "what you got was a rush to judgment, where they took the 60-second clip off Twitter, where there were hours of footage on YouTube. They didn’t bother to go look for that. They took what they had, and they wanted to be the first one with a story."
DeSantis asked Sandmann how this affected his life in the aftermath, noting that the diocese condemned Sandmann and his classmates "based off reaction to a media narrative."
"The diocese issued out a statement saying that our behavior, our actions, which were nothing besides standing there, were contrary to the church’s teachings on human life, on the dignity and respect for a human person," said Sandmann.
Sandmann added that at the time he was "scratching my head," asking "What did I do?"
"And so one of the first things I had done as soon as I got home was I sent my principal an email right away, it was about a page long but stream of consciousness just trying to get it out as quick as possible. 'Please don’t do anything, you haven’t heard the real story, you’re getting your story from, you know, what’s on CNN, Washington Post,' but they went right ahead, just as the media did."
Sandmann said the media "kind of predetermined part of what the rest of my future is going to look like," agreeing with DeSantis that this was the "most difficult period" of his life.
Sandmann said he "had to be very resilient, and still do the things I wanted to do. But, you know, you’ve also got to roll with, you know, the cards you’ve been given. And so I’ve had to adapt around that and it’s presented problems with like getting into college and other things and it’s just one of those things you’ve got to live with."
DeSantis added that "it just seems to me like if you were standing there and that guy, you know, pushed you over and broke your arm, you would be able to sue for it. No one would say anything about it. It’d be obvious you’d be able to do it."
"But the damage you’ve suffered with your reputation was probably more significant in your life than if you had just broken your arm that day, and yet you were able to eventually succeed, but many people are not able to. And it’s unfortunate," he said.
Sandmann filed a number of defamation lawsuits against numerous media outlets for their coverage of that day, with the Washington Post settling a $250 million suit, and CNN settling as well. The CBC also apologize for their coverage of the incident.
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