Legal standard too easy to prove in student's case

Thursday, January 9, 2020
Chris Woodward, Steve Jordahl (

Covington students at March for LifeOne attorney is not surprised about the CNN settlement with Covington Catholic student Nicholas Sandman.

"The reason it doesn't surprise me is that CNN faced a real problem," says Hans von Spakovsky, senior legal fellow for The Heritage Foundation. "Normally, media companies have a very easy time getting out of defamation lawsuits, because most of the articles they write and the coverage they do are on public figures, and public figures are politicians, celebrities, etc."

Von Spakovsky tells OneNewsNow it is almost impossible to win a libel lawsuit if you are a public figure, but in this case, Sandmann was not a public figure. Therefore, the legal standard is much easier to prove.

"It probably helped that he had the same lawyer, Lin Wood, who represented Richard Jewell, a security guard at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics that was wrongly accused by CNN of bombing the city's Olympic park," von Spakovsky adds.

Wood also sued CNN on behalf of Jewell and that case was settled, too.

Sandmann was accused of racist behavior toward Nathan Phillips, a Native American activist,  based almost entirely on what Sandmann's lawyers call a "deceptively edited" 59-second video clip.

Prominent figures such as CNN's Chris Cuomo commented on air that Sandman made a choice to create a "standoff" with Phillips, who was described by the liberal media as a "Vietnam veteran" who was being mocked by a cocky white teenager. He was not, in fact, ever deployed.

Sandmann still has lawsuits pending against NBC Universal and The Washington Post.

David Almasi of Project 21 says the Left was livid over the image of a MAGA hat-wearing white teenager who attends a Catholic school. 

The always-profane comedian Bill Maher called the teen "Smirk Face" and several profane names on his HBO show, and author Reza Aslan asked on Twitter, "Have you ever seen a more punchable face than this kid's?"

"[Sandmann] is the epitome of what the Left does not like," Almasi tells OneNewsNow.

Meanwhile, it is unclear how much CNN agreed to settle for with Sandmann.

von Spakovsky, Hans (Heritage)"I'm assuming that CNN is forcing confidentiality as part of its agreement to pay him money," says von Spakovsky. "That's the same thing CNN did going back to the Richard Jewell case, and nobody figured out or found out how much CNN paid Richard Jewell because of his defamation lawsuit, although Jewell also settled with NBC, and a report said they had agreed to pay Jewell about half a million dollars."

So using that case as a gauge, von Spakovsky says that might be the minimal amount paid here.

"It could be a lot more. We just don't know," he concludes.

Almasi predicts the settlement is a large one and says it likely sets up Sandmann for a legal "victory" with other news outlets such as The Washington Post.  

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