- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 24, 2019

CNN is defending its reporting after being sued by the Covington Catholic High School teen at the center of January’s viral incident, insisting that the network “reported on a newsworthy event” and was careful to “report on additional facts as they developed.”

In its first public acknowledgment of the legal action, CNN posted a four-paragraph article on its website that said the network was “reviewing the lawsuit,” referring to student Nicholas Sandmann’s defamation complaint filed March 12 seeking $275 million for “false, vicious attacks.”

“CNN reported on a newsworthy event and public discussion about it, taking care to report on additional facts as they developed and to share the perspectives of eyewitnesses and other participants and stakeholders as they came forward,” said the CNN statement in the article posted Thursday.

It was the second lawsuit filed by the 16-year-old from Kentucky and his parents, who sued The Washington Post last month for $250 million over its reporting on the Jan. 18 encounter at the Lincoln Memorial.

Attorney L. Lin Wood of Atlanta, who represents the Sandmanns, faulted CNN for failing to include an apology.

“CNN does not apologize to Nicholas Sandmann, does not acknowledge its violations of journalistic standards, does not admit its sources lied & does not acknowledge its bias. Much more is required to begin to right the wrong,” Mr. Wood said in a Saturday tweet.

The Washington Times has reached out to CNN for comment.

CNN’s initial coverage of the incident included a Jan. 19 article headlined, “Teens in Make America Great Again hats taunted a Native American elder at the Lincoln Memorial,” and a Jan. 20 broadcast titled, “Viral Video/MAGA Hat Teens Taunt Native American at Indigenous Peoples March,” according to the lawsuit filed in federal court in Kentucky.

A Jan. 20 video segment on CNN commentator S.E. Cupp’s show was titled, “Shameful Act/Viral Video Captures Teens Mocking Native American Veteran.”

Ms. Cupp apologized the next day, tweeting, “Hey guys. Seeing all the additional videos now, and I 100% regret reacting too quickly to the Covington story. I wish I’d had the fuller picture before weighing in, and I’m truly sorry.”

The Covington Catholic teens were accused at first of harassing Omaha Nation elder Nathan Phillips, based on a video clip tweeted by @2020fight, but lengthier video showed that the older man approached the teens and entered their cheer circle.

In a Jan. 21 interview with Mr. Phillips, CNN asked, “Were they being hateful, just bottom line? Did you feel hate from this group of people? Did it feel like they were being aggressive?”

CNN soon shifted its tone, following up with a Jan. 21 article headlined, “A new video shows a different side of the encounter between a Native American elder and teens in MAGA hats.”

CNN also posted in full a Jan. 23 statement by Nicholas, who had been vilified on social media and accused of smirking as he stood face-to-face with Mr. Phillips.

The same day, the network posted a story saying that Twitter had suspended the @2020fight account “soon after CNN Business asked about it.”

Nicholas said that the older man, who was beating a drum and singing, initiated the encounter by approaching him and standing in front of him, while Mr. Phillips accused the teen of “blocking my escape.”

The Washington Post has said it plans to fight the defamation lawsuit filed by Mr. Wood and Todd V. McMurtry of Kentucky. The newspaper also issued a March 1 editor’s note explaining its coverage and deleted a tweet.

Mr. McMurtry told Fox News earlier this month that the attorneys were also “looking very closely” at NBC, HBO and The Associated Press.

Defamation lawsuits are notoriously difficult to win. The complaint argued that CNN demonstrated a “purposeful avoidance of the truth” by “negligently and recklessly” publishing reports without conducting “a reasonable investigation prior to publication.”

“CNN ignored the facts and put its anti-Trump agenda first,” the lawsuit said.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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