CNN settles with Covington Catholic Kid over “racist confrontation” that turned out not to be

While we were on break, a story we covered last year got an interesting update. CNN settled a lawsuit out of court with Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandman, regarding its coverage of his interaction with a Native American drummer on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial last year.

Sandmann sought $275 million from CNN over its coverage of the confrontation he and his classmates had with an elderly Native American man while visiting Washington, D.C., on a school trip in January of last year. The amount of the settlement was not made public during a hearing at the federal courthouse in Covington on Tuesday, according to a local Fox affiliate.

In case you forgot, Sandman was in D.C. as part of the “March for Life” rally to protest the legal state of abortions. While outside the Lincoln Memorial, he and other Covington Catholic students appeared to be in some sort of row with another group that was shouting at them. Nathan Phillips, an activist there as part of the Indigenous Peoples March, stepped between the groups and drummed as part of an attempt to diffuse the situation.

(Or at least that’s the best version of a synopsis that I can provide, given that it seemed every media outlet wanted to have its own angle on this thing.)

Video of Sandman and Phillips standing nearly nose to nose went viral, as it seemed everyone with a Twitter account and an an internet connection studied each frame like it was the Zapruder film. To some Sandman was “smirking” or “mocking” or in some other way demeaning/threatening Phillips. To others, Sandman was just standing there, looking like an awkward high school kid.

At the time this happened, we wrote about it here and here.

One of the key problems associated with the situation for me was that general folks on social media, and media professionals as well, saw this incident as a way to represent a “larger truth” about everything from white privilege to toxic masculinity.

Each time, I poked back saying, “Yes, you are right that those things exist and they are bad, but how do you KNOW it was THESE KIDS who did what you are accusing them of doing?” Each time, I got the, “You don’t understand and you’re wrong” answer.

Well, on at least one point, I turned out to be particularly prescient:

So in other words, “What I just stated as a fact doesn’t really have to be a fact if it represents the broader truth I want to call attention to.” My friend noted that this isn’t really a problem:

I also saw in more than one video that those students were wearing MAGA hats mocking that Native man. They may or may not be the same boys who were harassing women, but it fits as a pattern of behavior in the same area on the same day with the same type of attire. Sometimes we can look outside and say it’s raining without having the National Weather Service confirm it.

My concern, however, is that the original post explicitly stated these are COVINGTON STUDENTS. Whether they are or not doesn’t make the “rape” kid’s words any more or less offensive, but if you state something as a fact, it damned well needs to be one. That’s doubly true if you’re a journalist and/or if legal action could come into play.

I doubt the rain would sue for defamation if you called it “drizzle” or the National Weather Service would sue if you didn’t get verify that this wasn’t “mixed precipitation.” However, I could easily see a kid’s parents or a school file suit if you’re wrong on this one.

And although a settlement doesn’t mean anyone necessarily admitted guilt, it does mean the defendants were worried enough about their position to cry “Uncle.”

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