By Jazmin Rosa
WINDSOR TERRACE — CNN has agreed to settle a multimillion-dollar defamation lawsuit filed by a student of Covington (Ky.) Catholic H.S. over the cable news network’s coverage of an encounter between the student and a Native American elder during the annual March for Life rally in Washington last January.
Nick Sandmann, 16, sued CNN last March. The amount of the settlement was undisclosed, according to reports. The lawsuit claimed CNN’s portrayal of him at the March for Life vilified the teenager, inciting a viral outrage motivated by the outlet’s bias, which targeted Sandmann for being a supporter of President Donald Trump.
An edited video that went viral showed Sandmann and other Covington Catholic students during an encounter with Nathan Phillips, a Native American activist, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. At the time, Phillips was beating a drum and singing for the Indigenous Peoples March, which occurred on the same day as the March for Life. Sandmann is seen wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat and grinning while he was inches away from Phillips as his surrounding classmates chanted and performed the tomahawk chop, a controversial but popular celebratory move in sports.
Following initial reports of the incident, videos began to surface revealing a third group of protestors who self-identified as Black Israelites taunting the group of students.
Those and other more complete videos of the encounter provided additional context to the confrontation between the Covington Catholic students and Phillips by showing that the students were responding to provocation.
But the viral video had already prompted a massive campaign of harassment against Sandmann, his classmates and Covington H.S.
“There was a rush by the media to believe what it wanted to believe versus what actually happened,” Todd McMurtry, a lawyer for Sandmann, told USA Today. “For the mob to just go tear apart a 16-year-old boy is inexcusable. He’ll never be able to get away from this.”
Sandmann later released a statement about the incident, saying that the Black Israelites lobbed insults at him and his classmates such as “racists,” “bigots” and “white crackers.”
He said in his statement that it was only after his school group responded with their school spirit chant and the tomahawk chop that they were approached by the Native American activists.
A subsequent investigation commissioned by the Diocese of Covington cleared the Catholic school students of any wrongdoing and found no evidence of “offensive or racist statements” made by students. The report did acknowledge, however, that the group performed the tomahawk chop.
“It’s possible that people within the Covington Catholic community are not willingly expressing racism,” said Chase Iron Eyes, a spokesman for the Indigenous Peoples March, according to Cincinnati.com. “As is clear from the report’s findings, there’s a lack of understanding about the racism inherent in the tomahawk chop.”
Lance Soto, a local indigenous leader in the Kentucky chapter of the American Indian Movement, also disagreed with the findings of the investigations, stating that it’s not up to others “to determine what is racist or derogatory toward Native Americans,” Cincinnat.com reported.
Sandmann still has pending lawsuits against the Washington Post and NBC Universal for their initial reporting of the story.