CNN settlement with Covington student Nick Sandmann a win for the 'little guy,' expert says

CNN’s decision to settle a multimillion-dollar defamation lawsuit filed by Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann is a big victory for the "little guy," Cornell Law School professor William A. Jacobson told Fox News.

“It represents a rare example of a 'little guy' being able to stand up to a media behemoth,” said Jacobson, the founder of the law blog Legal Insurrection and former senior editor of the Harvard International Law Journal.

“If not for the aggressive, and presumably contingent fee, representation by famed attorney Linn Wood, the result may have been different," he added.


Jacobson said the $250 million defamation suit was probably settled for at least seven figures but doesn’t expect the exact figure to ever be made public.

“The settlement amount is confidential, but likely was in the millions given the intrusive nature of discovery Sandmann's attorneys would have into the CNN newsmaking process, and the cost of continued defense," he said.

Sandmann was swept up in a controversy after a video clip depicted the "MAGA" hat-wearing student smiling at Native American Nathan Phillips, who was beating a drum and singing a chant as he was surrounded by Sandmann's peers, who had joined in on the chant in front of the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

However, several mainstream media outlets -- including CNN -- portrayed the incident with Sandmann and the other teens as being racially charged before additional footage surfaced and showed that a group of Black Hebrew Israelites had provoked the confrontation by slinging racial slurs at the students.


Footage then showed Phillips, who was in town for the Indigenous Peoples March, approaching the students amid the rising tension between the two groups.

Attorney Robert Barnes represents other Covington families who are seeking damages against members of the media over the incident. He told Fox News that the cases “shape the future of media in the social media age” and reporters need to be aware of CNN’s decision.

“Every journalist should pay attention to these cases to understand how their stories impact ordinary people, and how they can be individually and institutionally responsible when they get it wrong," he said. "The Covington cases show how dangerous social media lynch mobs can be when led by prominent media personalities, and the CNN settlements show no one is immune from accountability."

Todd McMurtry, part of Sandmann’s legal team, told Fox News on Wednesday that lawsuits against “as many as 13 other defendants will be filed in 30 to 40 days.”

Among them are ABC, CBS, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, NPR, Slate, The Hill and Gannett, which owns the Cincinnati Inquirer, as well as miscellaneous other small media outlets, according to McMurtry. Separate lawsuits against the Washington Post and NBC have already been filed, he added.


“Once all the parties are added, it will be time for the real fun -- discovery -- because that’s when we may see a glimpse of what the left-leaning media really thinks about conservatives,” Margot Cleveland, who was a law clerk to a federal judge for nearly 25 years, wrote in a column for The Federalist.

Fox News’ Joseph A. Wulfsohn and Doug McKelway contributed to this report.