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Verdicts & Settlements

Kentucky Student Nicholas Sandmann Settles Lawsuit with CNN

— January 8, 2020

Sandmann was initially portrayed by CNN and other media outlets as a MAGA-hat-wearing racist.

CNN has settled a lawsuit with Nicholas Sandmann, a Kentucky student who was called racist for staring down a Native American activist          .

According to FOX19, the terms of the settlement weren’t immediately made public. However, CNN confirmed that it had reached an agreement with Sadmann and his attorney, Todd McMurty.

In total, Sandmann had sought $800 million from CNN, NBC Universal and The Washington Post. The complaint against the Post—which requested close to a quarter-billion in damages—was allowed to partially proceed following the paper’s motion for dismissal.

Another Sandmann attorney, Lin Wood, said damages are sought due to the “emotional distress Nicholas and his family suffered.” Sandmann’s family allegedly had to leave their home in Covington, KY, as news channels called the teenager racist.

The confrontation between Phillips and Sandmann took place at a rally at the Lincoln Memorial. While CNN and other news outlets depicted Sandmann as mocking Phillips’ traditional chant, later information suggested that Sandmann and his classmates may have been caught between two opposing groups of protesters. Image via Wikimedia Commons. Public domain.

Sandmann was also—temporarily—barred from attending school events after the clip was first released. adds that Sandmann’s suits accused various media outlets of mischaracterizing him. CNN and other news channels repeatedly showed footage and stills of Sandmann—wearing a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat—appearing to laugh and smirk at a Native American activist performing an indigenous chant.

Later, Sandmann—along with the activist, Nathan Phillips—explained they were trying to defuse tensions between “conflicting groups” gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Shortly before the clip was filmed, Sandmann’s classmates were purportedly heckled and verbally abused by a group of Black Hebrew Israelites.

The Post says its requests for comment weren’t returned by CNN or Wood.

While the Post, too, has yet to update its stance, a spokesperson previously suggested that the paper had actively followed the story and published information as it appeared.

“While we do not accept the characterizations and contentions regarding our reporting of the incident at the Lincoln Memorial, we have taken steps to address the concerns expressed to us,” the Post said in a statement. “The full story did not emerge all at once and throughout our coverage, we sought to produce accurate reports. Even the comments of the school and church officials changed, and The Post provided ongoing coverage of the conflicting versions of this event and its aftermath, giving prominent attention to the student’s account and the investigative findings supporting it.”

“We thus have provided a fair and accurate historical record of how this incident unfolded,” the Post added.

Perhaps treading with caution, the Post added a small disclaimer to its own coverage of CNN’s settlement: that outlets like CNN often opt to settle defamation claims in court, rather than taking them to trial. Even if they’re eventually awarded a favorable judgment, the costs of a sustained legal battle can outweigh a single lump-sum.

Sandmann’s suit against the Post is still active.


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