CNN Pays the Price for Its “Agenda-Driven Fiction”

CNN Business today reported that CNN had settled with Covington High School student and MAGA-hat-wearing Nick Sandmann for its false reporting of an incident on the National Mall last year:

CNN has settled a lawsuit with a Kentucky high school student who was at the center of a viral video controversy, a spokesperson for the news network confirmed Tuesday.

No other details were immediately available.

As National Review reports, the allegations by CNN, Washington Post and others were extreme:

Numerous national media outlets painted Sandmann and his classmates as menacing — and in some cases racist — after an edited video emerged of Sandmann smiling, inches away from the face of Nathan Phillips, an elderly Native American man, while attending the March for Life on the National Mall. A more complete video of the encounter, which emerged later, showed that Phillips had approached the Covington students and begun drumming in their faces, prompting them to respond with school chants.

The lawsuit filed by Sandmann’s attorneys in the Eastern District of Kentucky claimed that 53 statements included in CNN’s coverage of the incident were defamatory. One such statement, included in a CNN opinion piece, accused the students of acting with “racist disrespect” towards Phillips. Meanwhile, Bakari Sellers, a CNN contributor, publicly mused about assaulting the 16-year-old Sandmann, and HBO host Bill Maher called him a “little prick.”

Of course there were other unedited videos at the time that proved all the claims were untrue.  The Diocese of Covington hired an investigative firm to look into all aspects of the incident.  

An investigation conducted by an independent firm found “no evidence” that the Covington High School students involved in the viral confrontation with an elderly Native American man near the Lincoln Memorial last month used “offensive or racist” statements.

The Diocese of Covington hired Greater Cincinatti Investigation Inc. to look into the incident after the school and its students were subjected to a torrent of online hate due to the misperception that the male students, who were in Washington, D.C. to participate in the March for Life, surrounded and harassed Nathan Phillips, an elderly Native American man.

After a more complete video of the encounter emerged, it became clear that Phillips approached the boys and began banging a drum just inches from one boy’s face. . . .

“Our students were placed in a situation that was at once bizarre and even threatening,” he [Roger J. Foys, the bishop of Covington] said. “Their reaction to the situation was, given the circumstances, expected and one might even say laudatory.”

Months ago Hans von Spakovsky wrote why teenager Sandmann could win:

Sandmann’s lawyers call CNN’s coverage “agenda-driven fiction” that “created an extremely dangerous situation by knowingly triggering the outrage of its audience and unleashing that outrage” on Sandmann and his classmates with “patently false accusations.” They even cite CNN political analyst Bakari Sellers as “openly” calling for “physical violence on Twitter.”

Since Sandmann would not be considered a “public figure” under applicable Supreme Court precedent, he doesn’t have to prove that CNN knew the statements were false, just that they were false. Sandmann’s lawyers make a strong case, though, that CNN acted with “actual malice” and that the network’s behavior was so “outrageous and willful” and such a violation of basic journalistic standards that punitive damages should be awarded.

Interestingly, one of the lawyers representing Sandmann is Lin Wood, the same lawyer who represented Richard Jewell. Jewell was the security guard at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics who was wrongly accused by CNN and other media companies of bombing the city’s Olympic Park. When CNN was sued for defamation, it agreed to pay Jewell an undisclosed amount.

It is justice that teenager Sandmann is being compensated for all he went through just because he wore a Make America Great Again Hat on the Mall.  It would be even better if CNN and other mainstream media outlets report the facts in the future instead of “agenda-driven fiction.”