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Report: CNN Settles with Cov Cath Student Nicholas Sandmann

CNN has settled with Covington Catholic student Nicholas Sandmann, who sued the cable news network following its coverage of an infamous encounter between the teen and a Native American activist on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. last year.

WXIX reported Tuesday that CNN reached the settlement with Sandmann during an appearance in U.S. District Court in Covington. The report was later confirmed by Sandmann, his attorneys, and CNN.

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According to court documents, attorneys for CNN participated in a conference call with attorneys for the Washington Post and NBC Universal, which are also being sued by Sandmann, back in December.

According to those documents, the call fell under federal court rule relating to collaborating on a discovery plan.

There was no word whether NBC or The Washington Post had also reached a settlement or still plan to go forward.

The suits arose from an event on the National Mall in January of 2019. Sandmann was with other Covington Catholic students in the nation's capital to attend the annual March for Life, an anti-abortion demonstration, and while those students were spending their final hours in D.C., some became engaged in a back-and-forth with a group of Black Hebrew Israelites who had been antagonizing them with racist and homophobic slurs.

The students responded, as seen in videos that circulated on social media from the event, by performing the Colonels' well-known school chants.

During one chant performance, a Native American activist, Nathan Phillips, who had been in D.C. for the Indigenous Peoples March, which also happened that day, approached the Covington Catholic students while playing a drum and chanting.

The initial images that were distributed from the scene that day appeared to indicate that Sandmann stood in the way of Phillips, preventing him from moving forward. Early on, there was no mention of the Black Hebrew Israelites' presence or involvement.

Media characterization of the event suggested that Sandmann and Cov Cath students acted improperly, alleging that they surrounded Phillips and that Sandmann in particular had been antagonistic by refusing to move from Phillips's path. 

Additional videos emerged not only to show the involvement and instigation by the Black Hebrew Israelites but also that Phillips was the one who approached the students. Some videos also showed Sandmann appearing to quiet his fellow students so as to be respectful to Phillips.

Phillips went on to do interviews, portraying himself as a victim in the infamous encounter.

In all, Sandmann, who is represented locally by attorney Todd McMurty as well as by nationally-known and Atlanta-based attorney L. Lin Wood, sought a total of $800 million in damages from the three named media networks. 

In their complaint against CNN, Sandmann's attorneys noted social media posts, website articles, and an interview with Phillips as defamatory against the teen.

One exhibit in the complaint was a screenshot of a tweet by CNN correspondent Sara Sidner that read, "Young white men surround Native American elders and mock them at Indigenous rally in DC. Arnerica we need to talk. Because this is not who we are is it?" An interview that Sidner conducted with Phillips was also included in the plaintiff's case against CNN.

Another included a tweet from CNN legal analyst Bakari Sellers that read, "He is a deplorable. Some ppl can also be punched in the face."

A January 19, 2019 article on CNN.com by David Williams was also included. It had the headline, "Teens in Make America Great Again hats taunted a Native American elder at the Lincoln Memorial." Part of the article read, "A crowd of teenagers surrounded a Native American elder and other activists and mocked them after Friday's Indigenous Peoples March at the Lincoln Memorial. Videos of the confrontation show a smiling young man in a red Make America Great Again hat standing directly in front of the man, who was playing a drum and chanting. Other kids could be seen laughing, jumping around and making fun of the chants."

A screenshot of a CNN broadcast with a banner that read, "Heartbreaking Viral Video" was also included. The video was captioned as, "Nathan Phillips, a Native American elder with the Omaha tribe, shares how he felt after he was mocked by a crowd of teenagers wearing "Make America Great Again" hats during the Indigenous Peoples March in Washington."

A January 19, 2019 tweet by CNN read, "Video shows a crowd of teenagers wearing 'Make America Great Again' hats taunting a Native American elder after Friday's Indigenous Peoples March at the Lincoln Memorial." An updated tweet came the next day, sharing Sandmann's perspective that he was trying to diffuse the situation.

There was no monetary figure included publicly in CNN's reported settlement with Sandmann.

This story may be updated.

Michael Monks, editor & publisher