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Sandmann family continues legal campaign against news outlets with $275 million suit against CNN

Posted at 7:36 PM, Mar 12, 2019

Editor's note: CNN is a national news partner of WCPO.

Weeks after filing a $250,000,000 federal suit against the Washington Post, lawyers representing Covington Catholic student Nicholas Sandmann announced plans to seek an even bigger financial concession from CNN: $275,000,000.

“CNN’s agenda-driven fiction about Nicholas and the January 18 incident was not only false and defamatory, it created an extremely dangerous situation by knowingly triggering the outrage of its audience and unleashing that outrage,” lawyer L. Lin Wood wrote in the new suit, which was filed Tuesday in the Eastern District of Kentucky.

CNN declined WCPO's request for comment.

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Sandmann, 16, became the subject of widespread press coverage after videos of a Jan. 18 encounter among Covington Catholic students, members of a fringe religious group known as the Black Hebrew Israelites and Native American demonstrators were widely disseminated online.

Much of the initial coverage, including that of the Post, shared the story told by Native American demonstrator Nathan Phillips: That he and other members of the Indigenous Peoples March felt surrounded and threatened by the students, almost all of whom were white and many of whom wore red “Make American Great Again” caps, and that some taunted them with chants of “Build that wall!”

FACT CHECK: Viral misinformation about Covington Catholic, Nathan Phillips infects the internet

“It was getting ugly, and I was thinking: ‘I’ve got to find myself an exit out of this situation and finish my song at the Lincoln Memorial,’” Phillips told the Post that day. “I started going that way, and that guy in the hat” — Sandmann — “stood in my way, and we were at an impasse. He just blocked my way and wouldn’t allow me to retreat.”

The image of Sandmann smiling at Phillips circulated quickly on social media, particularly on Twitter. A video recorded by Kaya Taitano of the Indigenous Peoples March appeared to bear out certain elements of Phillips’s story, including that Sandmann had blocked his way and that the marchers were surrounded by a mob.

RELATED: Multiple videos show different angles of incident with Covington Catholic students

"They just surrounded him and they were mocking him and mocking the (traditional) chant,” she told CNN on Jan. 19. “We really didn't know what was going to happen there."

All outlets — including this one and CNN — would later discover more layers to the story, more videos and additional perspectives that complicated and in some cases refuted that narrative. Many, including CNN,issued corrections and ran articles examining the rapid spread of the story.

In Tuesday’s suit, Sandmann’s lawyers argue irreparable harm had already been done — and that, moreover, CNN had intentionally mounted a campaign against the teenager as a result of an alleged bias against President Donald Trump and his supporters.

“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,” the suit claimed.

Included with the initial filing were screenshots of tweets CNN and its employees had posted about the incident, including a segment in which commentator S.E. Cupp chastised the Covington Catholic students and a follow-up tweet in which she apologized for speaking too soon.

The Sandmann family hired Wood Jan. 24. A longtime specialist in libel and slander cases, the attorney is known for taking high-profile clients for whom he seeks “eye-popping damages,” according to a 2011 article by the Washington Post.