[Ed. – As Ace says, even though Nathan Phillips’s “opinion” involved a potential error of fact, this dismissal means WaPo had no affirmative requirement to check the evidence before publishing it. It means if a mother screams “He murdered my baby!” a news outlet can publish the statement “Individual X murdered her baby” without any obligation to verify the evidence on that first. See the link for Ace’s larger point that a court worked from the opposite premise in the lawsuit brought against him. Two different standards of “justice.”]
Now, in this case, Phillips lied. He said Sandmann blocked his forward movement and taunted him.
These are factual claims. He cannot escape liability for these factual misrepresentations just by saying, “Well, that’s my opinion.”
Otherwise I could just say “You cheat on your wife and beat your kids” — factual statements, again — and then, when hailed into court, I could just say, “Well that’s my opinion.”
And the judge says, Case dismissed.
Is that how it works? No, of course not. Again, if that’s how it worked, there would be no claim of defamation at all, ever, anywhere.
Now, the Washington Post published this false claim of fact without checking its veracity. They are liable for it, then. If a newspaper publishes me saying of you, “You cheat on your wife and you beat your kids,” the newspaper cannot evade responsbility for publishing the defamation just by saying, “Well, in the opinion of Ace, that’s what we thought.”
If it worked this way, again, there’d never be defamation.