CNN was hit Tuesday with a $275 million lawsuit for allegedly “bullying” Covington Catholic student Nicholas Sandmann, the second defamation complaint brought against major media outlets for their coverage of the January incident at the Lincoln Memorial.
Attorneys L. Lin Wood of Atlanta and Todd V. McMurtry of Kentucky filed the lawsuit in federal court in Kentucky, three weeks after suing the Washington Post for $250 million on behalf of the Sandmann family.
The lawsuit alleged that 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.”
“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,” said the 58-page document.
The journey for justice for Nicholas Sandmann continues. Todd McMurtry @FitLwyr & I have many more steps to take but we know change will only occur if there is accountability for false accusations. And change is needed now more than ever. https://t.co/nds9L3Wbk8
— Lin Wood (@LLinWood) March 12, 2019
CNN, owned by the Turner Broadcasting System, a division of Warner Media, had no immediate public comment on the complaint. A spokesperson for the Washington Post said last month that the newspaper would bring a “vigorous defense.”
The lawsuit accused CNN of depicting the 16-year-old student as “the face of an unruly hate mob” in its reporting on his Jan. 18 encounter with Omaha Nation elder Nathan Phillips.
Covington Catholic High School students were initially accused on social media of harassing the older man, but more extensive footage showed that Mr. Phillips initiated the contact by approaching the teens and entering their cheer circle.
Mr. McMurtry told Fox News that the attorneys are also “looking very closely” at NBC, the Associated Press and HBO, based on “the conduct of [host] Bill Maher,” as well as Kathy Griffin for her “doxing” tweets.
“We probably have at least 10 top targets in the media and individuals, some of whom are people who were involved in Twitter attacks,” Mr. McMurtry said on “The Story with Martha MacCallum. “But certainly there are defendants to come, others that will be given the opportunity to retract those statements.”
The lawsuit against CNN seeks $75 million in compensatory damages and $200 million in punitive damages, while the Washington Post complaint seeks $50 million in compensatory damages.
“The difference between this lawsuit and the other lawsuit that we have filed is that CNN is a very significant media organization with a much broader reach than, say, the Washington Post,” said Mr. McMurtry.
He cited CNN’s 41 million followers on Twitter, where the network promoted its videos and online articles related to the episode.
Before filing the lawsuit, the attorneys “issued an opportunity for CNN to retract,” but said that network officials did not respond before the timeline set by Kentucky law, Mr. McMurtry said.
The Washington Post issued an editor’s note after the lawsuit was filed clarifying its coverage and deleting a tweet, but did not retract its stories or issue an apology.
Defamation lawsuits against media outlets are notoriously difficult to win, but the attorneys have expressed confidence in their case.
“We do feel like we’ve hit the top two first, but the others are very close in line,” Mr. McMurtry said.
Nicholas and other students were waiting for a bus back to Covington, Kentucky, after attending the March for Life, while Mr. Phillips had participated in the Indigenous Peoples March. The events were held the same day.
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