Covington Catholic student settles with CNN over defamation lawsuit

Nicholas Sandmann and tribal elder Nathan Phillips

A Catholic student has reached a settlement with CNN over its coverage of his encounter with a Native American tribal leader at a pro-life rally.

Nicholas Sandmann sued CNN for defamation over its coverage of him and other students from Covington Catholic High School facing off with tribal elder Nathan Phillips at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC in January 2019. 

The students were in the US capital for the annual March for Life anti-abortion rally.

The confrontation with Phillips went viral on social media, with Sandmann being referred to as "the MAGA hat kid" because he had been wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat at the time.

Angry comments were posted about the student on social media, some of which took a violent tone.

Former CNN contributor Reza Aslan wrote about the incident on Twitter in a since deleted post: "Honest question. Have you ever seen a more punchable face than this kid's?"

Daily Show host Trevor Noah joked that "everyone that sees that smug look wants to punch that kid".

"Trump or not, he just looks like an asshole," he said. "That's how you look when you're a teenager at that age."

As feelings over the encounter escalated, Covington Catholic High School, which is in Kentucky, had to be temporarily closed because of death threats and concerns around student safety.

Sandmann confirmed on Twitter that he has now settled with CNN.

"Yes, We settled with CNN," Sandmann wrote.

It was not the only news outlet to be sued by the teenager, who was seeking a total of $800 million in damages from CNN, The Washington Post and NBC Universal. 

His attorney said that the sum reflected the "emotional distress" suffered by Sandmann and his family in the aftermath of the encounter with Phillips, which he said had caused them to temporarily move and keep him away from school.

He sued on the grounds that he had been wrongly portrayed in media reports as an aggressor in the confrontation.

In a statement at the time, Sandmann denied any wrongdoing. 

"I never interacted with this protester. I did not speak to him. I did not make any hand gestures or other aggressive moves. To be honest, I was startled and confused as to why he had approached me," he said.

"We had already been yelled at by another group of protesters, and when the second group approached I was worried that a situation was getting out of control where adults were attempting to provoke teenagers."

The sum agreed with CNN has not been disclosed. Lawsuits with The Washington Post and NBC are ongoing.