An attorney representing students and alumni from Covington Catholic High School announced on Wednesday that his clients are giving journalists and celebrities 48 hours to either retract false statements made about them or face legal action.
“Everybody now is on 48-hour notice so by Friday, everybody needs to retract and correct any false statements they have issued about these kids,” Los Angeles-based attorney Robert Barnes said on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends.”
“That includes any major member of the media. That includes any major celebrity. That includes anybody with a substantial social media platform,” he added.
Barnes pointed out, unlike falsehoods directed at public figures (like politicians), the standard to successfully prove libel in court is negligence, not malice. At the time of the confrontation, the students were in Washington for the annual March for Life demonstration protesting legalized abortion.
“Because these are all private citizens and in many cases minors and kids, the law is saying anything false about them is libel,” he explained. “You don’t have a defense of actual malice. All you have to prove is negligence.
“So a lot of these journalists that have been saying false statements about these kids, false statements about the kids at the Lincoln Memorial,” the lawyer continued.
“Slurring and libeling the entire school and all the alumni for the school, and all you have to do is prove negligence, and by this standpoint, by this point in time, it is clear the anyone who continues to lie about these kids has done so illegally and can be sued for it.”
Barnes said his clients have decided to offer the 48-hour period of “grace.”
“‘If you have said anything false about these kids, they are willing to extend to you a 48-hour time period of grace, consistent with their Christian faith, for you, through confessions, to get redemption and retract and correct and apologize,” he said.
However, he warned, those guilty of making false statements about Covington High may be defendants in a lawsuit, because he will start filing them next week.
Fox News showed pictures of journalists and celebrities who have retracted so far including CNN’s S.E. Cupp and Jake Tapper, “The View’s” Meghan McCain, National Review editor-in-chief Rich Lowry, and actress Jamie Lee Curtis.
“Fox & Friends” host Ainsley Earhardt asked Barnes if there was anyone in particular he would like to identify who owes the Covington students a retraction.
He pointed to New York Times White House correspondent Maggie Haberman.
The reporter tweeted on Sunday,”There are dozens of students laughing and egging on the behavior. Will be interesting to see if anyone is actually expelled, as officials suggest is possible.”
She linked to a Times story titled, “Viral Video Shows Boys in ‘Make America Great Again’ Hats Surrounding Native Elder.’”
Barnes tweeted in response, “I will represent the kids for free is they want to sue @maggieNYT for obvious libel.”
In an interview that aired on NBC’s “Today” on Wednesday, host Savannah Guthrie asked Covington student Nick Sandmann, if he felt he owed native elder Nathan Phillips an apology. Sandmann is seen standing face-to-face with Phillips in video and pictures from the incident.
The original reporting about the standoff by many media outlets blamed the students for the confrontation, based on a small video clip.
However, when video giving fuller context became public, it revealed that Phillips had approached the students, who were themselves also being jeered with racial slurs by a group calling itself Black Hebrew Israelites who were close by.
“As far as standing there, I had every right to do so,” Sandmann told Guthrie.
“My position is that I was not disrespectful to Mr. Phillips. I respect him. I’d like to talk to him,” the 16-year-old added. “I mean, in hindsight, I wish we could’ve walked away and avoided the whole thing. But I can’t say that I’m sorry for listening to him and standing there.”
In a tweet, Barnes thanked Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota for her retraction.
The freshman lawmaker, who is among the first two Muslim congresswomen to serve, wrote, “The boys were protesting a woman’s right to choose … They were taunting 5 Black men before they surrounded Phillips and led racist chants … Sandmann’s family hired a right wing PR firm to write his non-apology.”
Fox News reported, “after an avalanche of criticism, the tweet had been removed by late morning on Wednesday.”