Nicholas Sandmann Sues CNN – Read the Complaint with Exhibits
“CNN’s vicious attack on Nicholas included at least four (4) defamatory television broadcasts and nine (9) defamatory online articles…”
Nicholas Sandmann, the Covington, Kentucky teen maligned by the media, has filed his second lawsuit.
The first lawsuit was against The Washington Post, Covington teen Nicholas Sandmann sues The Washington Post for defamation:
You know the story of the Covington Catholic High School kids who were maligned by the media when Native American activist Nathan Phillips, accompanied by a phalanx of videographers, approached them to create a confrontation.
Nicholas Sandmann did nothing other than stand there as Phillips invaded his personal space and banged a drum inches from Sandmann’s face. The fact that Sandmann was wearing a MAGA hat infuriated liberal media and social media. That Sandmann smiled during the encounter was called a “white privileged” smirk, and led to taunts from some famous people that he should be punched in the face.
When the full video came out, it became clear that Sandmann was the victim in this encounter, not the aggressor. There were some apologies, but for the most part the media that had tarred and feathered Sandmann did nothing to clean up the mess they made.
Sandmann has hired high profile lawyer Linn Wood from Atlanta, and Todd McMurty from Mitchell, KY. Document preservation demands were sent to dozens of media entities and celebrities. Now suit has been filed in federal court in the Eastern District of Kentucky for defamation.
You can read the Complaint and exhibits at the lawyers’ website. The Complaint also is here in pdf.
I expressed questions and doubts about whether Sandmann’s lawsuit against WaPo would survive a motion to dismiss:
I’ve read the Complaint, but it is hard to find specific false statements about Sandmann. As the Complaint states many times, Sandmann relies on the alleged ” false and defamatory gist” of WaPo’s coverage (that phrase appears 24 times). Many of the statements attributed to WaPo that contributed to this gist are the repetition of statements from Phillips and others as part of the news coverage that create the impression (sometimes explicitly so) that the students (and by implication Sandmann) were the aggressors. I wonder, though, whether those conclusions by WaPo were opinions as a legal matter and thus protected by the First Amendment.
So my gut is telling me there may be some legal problems surviving a motion to dismiss. I’ll be looking for solid legal analysis by others on this. If you find any analysis that’s not just wishful thinking, please post in the comments.
A new case has been filed, this time against CNN. The Complaint (pdf.) is embedded in full at the bottom of this post.
Here are some of the key allegations:
11. Between January 19 and January 25, 2019, CNN brought down the full force of its corporate power, influence, and wealth on Nicholas by falsely attacking, vilifying, and bullying him despite the fact that he was a minor child.
12. Contrary to its “Facts First” public relations ploy, CNN ignored the facts and put its anti-Trump agenda first in waging a 7-day media campaign of false, vicious attacks against Nicholas, a young boy who was guilty of little more than wearing a souvenir Make America Great Again cap while on a high school field trip to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. to attend the January 18 March for Life.
13. CNN’s vicious attack on Nicholas included at least four (4) defamatory television broadcasts and nine (9) defamatory online articles falsely accusing Nicholas and his Covington Catholic High School (“CovCath”) classmates of, among other things, engaging in racist conduct by instigating a threatening confrontation with several African American men (“the Black Hebrew Israelites”) and subsequently instigating a threatening confrontation with Native Americans who were in the midst of prayer following the Indigenous Peoples March at the National Mall.
14. More specifically, CNN falsely asserted that Nicholas and his CovCath classmates were in a “racis[t]” “mob mentality” and “looked like they were going to lynch” the Black Hebrew Israelites who were merely “preaching about the Bible nearby” “because they didn’t like the color of their skin” and “their religious views,” and that Nicholas and his classmates then “surrounded” one of the Native Americans, 64-year old Nathan Phillips, creating “a really dangerous situation” during which Nicholas “blocked [Phillips’] escape” when Phillips tried “to leave” the mob, causing Phillips to “fear for his safety and the safety of those with him,” while Nicholas and his classmates “harassed and taunted” him.
15. In short, the false and defamatory gist of CNN’s collective reporting conveyed to its viewers and readers that Nicholas was the face of an unruly hate mob of hundreds of white racist high school students who physically assaulted, harassed, and taunted two different minority groups engaged in peaceful demonstrations, preaching, song, and prayer.
* * *
36. In order to fully compensate Nicholas for the reputational harm, emotional distress, and mental anguish caused by CNN’s false attacks, this action seeks compensatory damages in excess of Seventy-Five Million Dollars ($75,000,000.00).
37. In order to punish and to deter CNN from ever again engaging in false, reckless, malicious, and agenda-driven attacks against children in violation of well recognized journalistic standards and ethics, this action seeks punitive damages in excess of Two Hundred Million Dollars ($200,000,000.00).
I have the same questions about the legal sufficiency of the CNN case as the WaPo case.
There is no doubt that Nicholas Sandmann was maligned and treated horribly by the media, including WaPo and CNN. But the legal landscape is very friendly to the press, so we’ll have to see how this unfolds in court.
Nicholas Sandmann v. CNN – Complaint (With Exhibits) by Legal Insurrection on Scribd
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Covington kids…may the courts be with you.
Just getting to Discovery will be a Gold Mine when made public. CNN and the other MSM would settle before that. They don’t want all the mess aired in public.
I disagree. There’s the whole problem of a Marxist judiciary.
I’m hoping than Sandmann’s and his lawyer’s ultimate goal is to argue in front of SCOTUS for a rethinking of prior decisions in light of the creative destruction of the internet on journalism and how the clickbait monetization of same requires better libel and defamation protection for the unsuspecting ordinary citizens going about their lives.
One issue which bugs me is the impermanence of websites. How many times have webpages been pulled with no record of their ever having existed? I am sure that everything that has ever been on the web can be found eventually, but it isn’t like a hard-copy paper where once it was put in print, there is a physical copy. If the Supremes do visit this, then there needs to be a permanent record kept of everything a website puts up. Isn’t CNN required to keep a permanent copy of everything they send out over the airwaves?
You can go to the way back machine and request that it archive a specific URL.
Mark “Slash” Levin was very impressed with Lin Wood’s presentation of his case today. It looks to me that Wood is framing this in a historical context of how freedom of the press has evolved over the years and has gone off the rails. I hope he means the “who, what, when, where and why” rails that used to form the traditional basics of journalism. I believe he is going to win one of these cases opening up the flood gates.
I happened to watch that show.. If anyone is interested here is the video..
CNN caught on both Libel (written defamation) and
Slander (spoken defamation)!!!!!!!
Not a legal scholar so take this a spectator observation…I feel the compelling fact is the Sandman is a minor in these cases and that may have weight at the motion.
I don’t see how it can have any weight. It doesn’t turn wrong opinions into false facts.
CNN presented their wrong opinions as facts.
Exactly. They had the facts but chose to substitute their opinions for the facts. It wasn’t an interpretation of the facts problem but a deliberate ignoring of the facts that wee in plain sight for everyone to see. It sure seems to me that there is a constitutional issue to be clarified here.
What constitutional issue? There is no question that opinions cannot be defamatory.
What does that even mean?
See I heard the exact opposite. Since he was a kid, how much could his character be defamed??.. It seemed to me they were saying that there was no there there.. or something..
Of course, all legal considerations aside, I hope Wood kicks em where it count…
I hate complaints that read like a press release. And, as a claim for relief, it violates Rule #1 of the general rules of pleading in federal court: Begin with a short and plain statement of the grounds for the court’s jurisdiction. You have to go down to page 20 in allegations 125-127 to find it. The rule doesn’t require the complaint to lead with that allegation, but every serious federal practitioner I’ve ever seen does it that way. And, it violates rule #2 as well: Make a “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” This is state court code pleading in federal court. What a mess.
Remember when Obama used to say he’d just learned of some trending news via the media? He’d found out about it watching cable news?
I would think, “Really?? This is important news and I’ve known about it for hours. I knew about this before the President of the United States of America knew about it? Seriously??”
Long, long, loooooong before CNN, WaPo, and all the usual suspects let it be known they finally realized the story was not quite what they had first thought it was (or hoped it was) I knew the kids were innocent; I knew the black Hebrew Israelites were aggressive nuts who had taunted the kids; I knew that the supposedly innocent Native American Ringo Starr was actually an ignoble savage con artist.
So as it was with the last-to-know-unfortunate-news President Obama, I found myself light years ahead of “serious” establishment media “journalists” on the plot of the story.
Hours, even days, after I knew exactly what actually happened, “journalists” who do journalisimining for a living were still playing catch up to me. I’m sure it was the same with all of you LI readers. One has to think, “Am I a ‘natural’? Should I have become a journalist? Because what is instantaneously obvious to me takes the ‘real’ journalists a much longer time to realize. Or are they just completely incompetent at their job? Or could there be another possibility?”
It’s quite something to be occasionally checking the latest news on Twitter and your favorite news web sites while you’re checking how your stocks are doing, answering your spouse’s nagging questions, eating your breakfast, yelling at the kids, etc., etc., and then checking the latest tweets by the news “experts” who do the news stuff for a living only to find they’re pushing “news” you’ve already long known has been thoroughly debunked.
You start to think that not only is journalism not an exact science … it is to the truth what Scientology is to science.
In this whole escapade there were two main actors: journalists and the Covington teenagers.
The Covington kids showed amazing restraint and maturity.
The journalists? … well, they acted like impulsive, impetuous teenagers.
What you describe is what happens when the media is motivated by bad faith.
I have a nephew who sued the city over a frame up of a black teenager. His brief was shot down as amateruish by the judge, but he went on to get $750,000.
It didn’t work for Zimmerman, it won’t work for this kid. Unfortunately.
I agree that almost everything cited in this paragraph is opinion, and therefore not actionable. The only false statements of fact I see are that the boys “surrounded” Phillips and “blocked his escape”; it seems to me that it would be hard to prove that the damage the plaintiff suffered came exclusively or primarily from that lie, rather than from all the horrible opinions the defendant and others published. It’s especially strange for the plaintiff to go to the trouble of preparing the defendant’s case for it, by citing all these nonactionable opinions, which are much more inflammatory than the few actual lies told, and therefore more likely to have caused the damage.
Bottom line: “Nick Sandmann is an arrogant privileged racist white boy who sneered at Phillips and deserves to be punched in the face” is a wrong opinion, a horrible opinion, but it is an opinion, and therefore cannot be defamation.
Yeah, i think you’re right that this suit doesn’t have legs, but what it does have, I hope, and suspect the Sandmann attorneys hope, is a chilling effect on this sort of knee-jerk partisan feeding frenzy on random kids. All five CNN viewers cannot possibly foot the bill that this suit will entail. As leftist media fails, it simply doesn’t have the resources to defend these suits en masse. That, I think, is the goal here. Send a very very costly message. The message will get out if enough of these suits are brought. Count on it.
In other words, you’re encouraging a SLAPP?
I hope you’re a commentator on blogs instead of an actual lawyer; there are established precedents in American defamation law that merely expressing or repeating an opinion that is very wrong and deeply unflattering can constitute defamation.
Really? Why don’t you cite such precedents, if they exist. They don’t. By definition, defamation can only consist of factual allegations.
Think about it like this: were I to approach all your neighbors and coworkers that I “suspected” you were a pedophile without any grounds at all, it couldn’t possibly be morally ok. Your reputation would certainly have suffered harm, and my behavior would not be remotely justified, and quite malicious.
What they did to Sandman was even worse; as journalists they had a professional obligation to obtain and relay both sides’ version of events.
Morally, of course it would not be OK. Legally, I could take action against you only if you implied that you were in possession of facts to support your suspicion.
The key question would be whether a reasonable person to whom you expressed your suspicion would understand that it was just a suspicion, unsupported by facts, in which case it could not be defamation; or would they assume that you must have facts or you wouldn’t be going around saying such things, in which case the suspicion itself would still not be actionable, but the implication of facts would be.
I have to laugh. The latter half of that paragraph sounds like something out of a post from Mr. Branca rather than Mr. Jacobson, i.e. the lead-in to an act of self-defense (or something to be portrayed as such) against a threatening, dangerous mob, and all you come away with is that the plaintiff allegedly sneered.
At any rate, I recognize the opinions and narrative of Mr. Phillips, and if CNN cannot be faulted for airing that narrative without the slightest effort to determine whether it was a faithful rendition, or even remotely a reasonable interpretation, then anything can be reported so long as you can cite a source, and there is no obligation, anywhere, ever, to even be skeptical, let alone check for yourself. I trust, you being an attorney, that this is the state of American law. That is sad.
I am wondering how many previous run-ins that CNN had with Philips. Was he a known entity? It seems so with the number of somewhat “professional” camera setups following him. Where I see CNN possibly losing out here big time is if a connection can be established wherein they knew of the confrontation ahead of time, or, even more damaging, were complicit in arranging the news to report. Is it possible that CNN (and/or others) was literally “arranging serendipity?” I know that I was both initially struck by all of the coincidences, as well recognizing that the piling on seemed to be organized as well.
Not that it apparently matters given the state of American law, but the entire point of his being there was that he was a political activist. It’s meaningless. It’s even meaningless to dig up his prior accusations in an alleged racist incident. A sympathetic reporter would assume he is telling the truth. If they are under no obligation to look into this incident’s particulars, but can merely rebroadcast any allegation Phillips wishes to levy, then there is no slander or libel possible under the law, and the law might as well not exist. That, or they argue it is their opinion Phillips’ words – reported by CNN as fact – are true, so they don’t need to even bother to try and check for themselves.
Correction: I am not an attorney and have not represented myself as one. I do know the basic legal facts that every educated person ought to know, such as that defamation can only consist of objectively verifiable factual allegations. A restaurant review that says “the meat was rotten” is actionable; “the meal was awful” is not.
You are clearly wrong. And that’s a fact.
Current case law makes it virtually impossible to prosecute a successful defamation suit against a major medial outlet. The standards are so subjective that only a disfavored Gawker type outlet is vulnerable.
This case is a prefect candidate for SCOTUS reviews. We have negligence, real damage, a non-public figure and word weaving that creates an impression that these boys are something they are not. If these actions are not defamatory, then nothing will be — and news organization’s are exempt from defamation laws.
Not true. Private figures like Sandmann can win defamation suits against major media outlets, if they can confine the case to hard factual allegations that turned out not to be true. If all WaPo and CNN had reported were the alleged facts and nothing else, without characterizing them in any way, and it then turned out those alleged facts were false, he’d have a great case. But opinions are not actionable and almost everything his lawyers are complaining about is opinion.
Give me an example of a successful defamation verdict against a major main stream media outlet (ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, New York Times, Washington Post,AP, Reuters).
SCOTUS will not find a better case than this case to review defamation laws. As case law stands now, a successful defamation verdict against a major news organization (unless it is disfavored like Gawker) is impossible.
It Is time for SCOTUS to impose clear, objective, difficult but surmountable standards for defamation.
CNN & the WP couched their presentation of their version of the “facts” as opinion. CNN & WP also presented the facts via reporting what an eye witness said had happened.
It seems that the style of reporting the false facts is designed to insulate CNN & WP from libel via the subtle distinction of presenting the false facts under the disguise of ‘opinion” knowing that can get around the libel laws in that manner.
Not quite. Quoting Phillips doesn’t shield them. The problem is that most of what Phillips said was his assumptions and opinions, not factual allegations. It was all what he thought they were thinking, his imputation of motives to them, not what he saw them actually do.
Before posting I tryed finding some citations of sucessful suits against tht MSM. While I am not a lawyer, I prefer to have citations to back my opinions.
It is alarming how little there is on successful litigation against the MSM. (Most are found outside the U.S. court system.)
So maybe it’s time for people to get behind a lawsuit of this nature.
I know the argument: “But this could have a chilling effect on Freedom of the Press.” I disagree. Holding the media accountable (from whatever source) would make for a more honest presentation of the news.
Unchecked power corrupts. But thats just my opinion.
Like Brown v. Board of Education, people of ill will have taken New York Times v. Sullivan and run with it.
Brown was the infamous school bussing case that was used to justify 3-hour commutes for young school children. It was a real shock to read the opinion and find the footnote that was the purported origin for that mess.
New York Times v. Sullivan has been similarly abused, stretched to the point that our traditional “news” media no longer even pretends to report anything but opinion. The result has become “news” articles about the content of upcoming Congressional hearing testimony that is nothing but wishful thinking by partisans. The “news” article gets contradicted the next day, and without follow-up reporting, there is no correction. And so we have the Speaker of the House giving tutorials on the uses of the “wrap-up smear.”
Sullivan should not apply in the present case, because the plaintiff did not seek any publicity but was ambushed, and furthermore is under age. The shadow cast by that opinion and its progeny, however, is pernicious.
What if during discovery Sandmann’s lawyers find an email chain where it shows the editorial team knew the greater context and intentionally published the story to tell the edited narrative they wanted to be true? I guess my question is from the actual published article you may not be able to prove defamation, but could there be other evidence that would show the publishers true intentions that could lead to a conviction?
I remember in junior high school we had “Backwards Day.”
Your class schedule was reversed for the day. The girls asked the boys to the dance. (Oh, those old, binary gender days.) Etc., etc.
I’ve long thought that journalists are more like slimy politicians than slimy politicians are like slimy politicians.
When caught pushing pure narrative and opinion, they go from dogged and determined seekers of the truth to shy and shrinking shaders of truth.
It would be great to have just one day a year (maybe a national holiday), when the roles are reversed and the politicians get to badger the journalists and expose the unsavory details of their lives. And just concoct whole partisan narratives and push them as the plain truth.
If the Professor’s points about the insufficiency of the lawsuit are correct, which they may well be, then no American is protected from being maligned by a powerful, malign, lawsuit-immune, politically biased media and a Supreme Court re-examination of their cases on the subject is a necessity. Legislation would be the better way to address the issue but since the media is in the pocket of Democrats (or vice -versa)that is not a viable option.
What a shame that the Democrats are willing to destroy all protections of normal Americans to achieve power and ‘transform’ America – this is the germination of the seeds planted by Obama.