CNN hit with $275 million defamation suit by Kentucky student

FILE PHOTO: Nicholas Sandmann, 16, a student from Covington Catholic High School stands in front of Native American activist Nathan Phillips in Washington, U.S., in this still image from a January 18, 2019 video by Kaya Taitano. Kaya Taitano/Social Media/via REUTERS/File Photo

By Keith Coffman

(Reuters) – A Kentucky teenager sued CNN on Tuesday for defamation, saying the cable network falsely conveyed to viewers that he was the “face of an unruly hate mob” confronting a Native American activist at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington in January.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Covington Catholic High School student Nicholas Sandmann in federal court in Kentucky, seeks $275 million in compensatory and punitive damages over the videotaped incident in the nation’s capital.

Sandmann and other Covington Catholic students had been in Washington to attend a March for Life anti-abortion rally.

In photos and videos that went viral from the incident, Sandmann is seen standing face to face with Native American activist Nathan Phillips. Sandmann stares and smiles at Phillips while Phillips sings and plays his drum.

The footage sparked outrage on social media, with many viewers saying that Sandmann and a group of fellow students seen gathered around Phillips appeared to be mocking the activist.

The complaint said CNN, a division of Turner Broadcasting System Inc-owned Warner Media LLC, aired four “defamatory” broadcasts and nine online articles falsely accusing Sandmann, 16, and his classmates of “engaging in racist conduct”.

“The CNN accusations are totally and unequivocally false, and CNN would have known them to be untrue had it undertaken any reasonable efforts to verify their accuracy before publication,” the complaint said.

A CNN spokeswoman said the network declined to comment.

A private investigation firm commissioned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington in Park Hills, Kentucky, to review the incident concluded last month that there was no evidence the students provoked a confrontation.

Instead, the report found that the teenagers were met at the Lincoln Memorial by offensive statements directed at them by several African-American protesters from a group known as the Black Hebrew Israelites.

According to this account, the students responded with permission from the teacher chaperones by shouting “school spirit” chants before Phillips waded into scene playing his drum.

The complaint said CNN exhibited a bias against President Donald Trump by focusing on Sandmann and other Covington students because they were wearing red caps emblazoned with the president’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.

Trump has a contentious relationship with CNN, frequently calling it “Fake News”.

Last month, Sandmann sued the Washington Post for $250 million over its reporting of the same incident.

The newspaper said in a statement that it would “mount a vigorous defense,’ and later published an “Editor’s Note” explaining how its coverage of the incident evolved as new information came to light.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; Editing by Steve Gorman, Robert Birsel)

Teen in Lincoln Memorial protest sues Washington Post for $250 million

FILE PHOTO: Nicholas Sandmann, 16, a student from Covington Catholic High School stands in front of Native American activist Nathan Phillips in Washington, U.S., in this still image from a January 18, 2019 video by Kaya Taitano. Kaya Taitano/Social Media/via REUTERS/File Photo

By Keith Coffman

(Reuters) – A high school student from Covington, Kentucky, sued the Washington Post for defamation on Tuesday, claiming the newspaper falsely accused him of racist acts and instigating a confrontation with a Native American activist in a January videotaped incident at the Lincoln Memorial.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Kentucky by Covington Catholic High School student Nicholas Sandmann, 16, seeks $250 million in damages, the amount that Jeff Bezos, founder of and the world’s richest person, paid for the Post in 2013.

The lawsuit claims that the newspaper “wrongfully targeted and bullied” the teen to advance its bias against President Donald Trump because Sandmann is a white Catholic who wore a Make America Great Again souvenir cap on a school field trip to the March for Life anti-abortion rally in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 18.

The Washington Post’s Vice President for Communications Kristine Coratti Kelly said: “We are reviewing a copy of the lawsuit and we plan to mount a vigorous defense.”

In a photo that went viral from the incident, Sandmann is seen standing face to face with Native American activist Nathan Phillips. Sandmann stares smiling at him while Phillips sings and plays his drum.

The incident sparked outrage on social media.


In a statement, Sandmann’s Atlanta-based lawyer, Lin Wood, said additional similar lawsuits would be filed in the weeks ahead.

A private investigation firm retained by Covington Diocese in Park Hills, Kentucky, found in a report released last week no evidence the teenagers provoked a confrontation.

The students were met at the Lincoln Memorial by offensive statements from members of the Black Hebrew Israelites, the report said.

The investigation also determined that the students did not direct any racist or offensive comments toward Phillips although several performed a “tomahawk chop” to the beat of his drum.

Phillips claimed in a separate video that he heard the students chanting “build that wall,” during the encounter, a reference to Trump’s pledge to build a barrier along the U.S. border with Mexico.

The investigators said they found no evidence of such a chant and that Phillips did not respond to multiple attempts to contact him.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman in DenverWriting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; editing by Bill Tarrant, Bill Berkrot and Cynthia Osterman)

Sarah Palin sues New York Times for defamation

FILE PHOTO - Sarah Palin speaks at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver, Colorado, U.S., July 1, 2016. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

By Riham Alkousaa

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin has sued the New York Times for defamation because of an editorial that linked her rhetoric to a 2011 shooting that killed six people and seriously wounded a U.S. congresswoman.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on Tuesday said the Times deliberately “acted with actual malice” toward Palin and that the editorial was “false and defamatory.” It claims the Times violated its policies and procedures.

Palin, the former Alaska governor was Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s running mate in an unsuccessful 2008 campaign, is seeking in excess of $75,000 for compensatory, special and punitive damages.

On June 14 the Times published an editorial commenting on the mass shooting at a Virginia baseball field that injured four people, including Republican Representative Steve Scalise, saying the attack was probably evidence of how vicious American politics has become.

The editorial board then recalled a shooting in Arizona in 2011 that targeted U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and killed six people.

“Before the shooting, Sarah Palin’s political action committee circulated a map of targeted electoral districts that put Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized cross hairs,” the editorial said.

The newspaper issued a correction saying the editorial “incorrectly stated that a link existed between political rhetoric” and the Giffords shooting. It also corrected its description of the map, saying it depicted electoral districts, not Giffords and individual Democratic lawmakers, beneath cross hairs.

The lawsuit called the corrections insufficient and said Palin wanted the Times to remove the article from the newspaper’s website, where it still appears with the amended correction.

“We will defend against any claim vigorously,” the Times said in a statement on Wednesday.

Theodore Boutrous, a Los Angeles lawyer and constitutional law expert, said Palin was unlikely to succeed because she is a public figure.

“The First Amendment protects newspapers and others in terms of speaking out and writing and expressing opinions on important and public issues and that’s what The New York Times was doing,” Boutrous said.

(Reporting By Riham Alkousaa; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Bill Trott)

‘Pink slime’ defamation case against ABC under way in South Dakota

Lean, finely textured beef (LFTB) is produced at the Beef Products Inc (BPI) facility in South Sioux City, Nebrask

By Timothy Mclaughlin and P.J. Huffstutter

ELK POINT, S.D./CHICAGO (Reuters) – A South Dakota meat processor’s $5.7 billion defamation lawsuit against American Broadcasting Company opened on Monday, pitting big agriculture against big media, in the first major court challenge against a media company since accusations of “fake news” by U.S. President Donald Trump and his supporters have become part of the American vernacular.

In the closely watched case, Beef Products Inc (BPI) claims ABC, a unit of Walt Disney Co, and its reporter Jim Avila, defamed the company by calling its ground-beef product “pink slime” and making errors and omissions in its reporting.

The 2012 news reports almost put privately held meat processor BPI out of business, a lawyer for the company said in opening arguments on Monday.

“That success took about 30 years to succeed and it took ABC less than 30 days to severely damage the company,” the attorney, Dan Webb, said in court.

In the aftermath of ABC’s reports, BPI closed three of its four processing plants and said its revenue dropped 80 percent, to $130 million.

ABC has countered that its coverage was accurate and deserved protection under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment which guarantees freedom of religion, speech and the right to a free press.

ABC denies any wrongdoing and is confident its reporting will be “fully vindicated,” a lawyer for ABC and Avila, Kevin Baine of Williams & Connolly, has said.

Nick Roth (L), Jennifer Letch (C) and Craig Letch pose for a photograph at Beef Products Inc company headquarters in Dakota Dunes, South Dakota N

FILE PHOTO: Nick Roth (L), Jennifer Letch (C) and Craig Letch pose for a photograph at Beef Products Inc company headquarters in Dakota Dunes, South Dakota November 19, 2012. REUTERS/Lane Hickenbottom/File Photo

The trial is being held in Elk Point, South Dakota, about 20 miles (32 km) north of BPI’s headquarters, which employs 110 people. Roughly 6 percent of the area labor force is involved in agriculture and related industries, according to the local chamber of commerce.

Election records show 67 percent of the U.S. presidential vote in Union County, where Elk Point sits, was won by Trump, who uses the term “fake news” to argue that some mainstream media outlets cannot be trusted.

Lawyers for BPI have declined to say if they plan to focus on “fake news” as a tactic at trial. But during a January court hearing, a BPI lawyer, Erik Connolly, said ABC broadcasts and online reports about “lean finely textured beef” (LFTB) used unreliable sources and set out to foment public outrage. The ABC reports amounted to “fake news,” Connolly told the judge.

BPI’s signature product, commonly mixed into ground beef, is made from beef chunks, including trimmings, and exposed to bursts of ammonium hydroxide to kill E. coli and other contaminants.

Webb said in court on Monday that between March 7 and April 3 of 2012, ABC used the term “pink slime” more than 350 times across six different media platforms including TV and online.

Reporter Avila, wearing a gray suit and striped tie, was in the courtroom on Monday as were BPI’s founders, Eldon and Regina Roth.

To win its case, BPI must show the network intended to harm the company or knew what it reported was false when it referred to BPI’s LFTB product as “pink slime.” BPI also claims ABC made other errors and omissions that unfairly cast its product in a bad light.

Not since talk show host Oprah Winfrey in 1998 took on cattle producers in Amarillo, Texas, have big media and big agriculture squared off in such a high-profile way on the industry’s home turf.

The Texas jury in 2000 rejected claims Winfrey defamed cattle ranchers during a “dangerous food” episode of her eponymous show, when she expressed concerns about eating beef at the height of the panic in Britain over “mad cow” disease.

As in the Winfrey case, the lawsuit against ABC is upending a quiet, rural town. To make room for overflow crowds in the town of 2,000, the county commission earmarked $175,000 to turn the Union County Courthouse basement into an enlarged courtroom and move records into a specially constructed separate building.

BPI moved modular offices into town to accommodate its legal team, the company said.

(Additional reporting by Mark Weinraub in Chicago; Editing by David Greising, James Dalgleish and Matthew Lewis)