Todd McMurtry, Attorney for Nicholas Sandman, Joins TVT, and Chris Winn. Recently, CNN settled a 275-million-dollar defamation suit with Covington Catholic student Nicholas Sandman, possibly paving the way for many more defamation suits against large media outlets. 

In response to an assumed high settlement figure, Shapiro askes what hardships did the Sandman family go through that justifies CNN’s settlement? 

McMurtry explains, CNN and many other large networks like MSNBC portrayed Nicholas as an aggressive racist Trump supporter. CNN republished Nathan Philips fabricated account that Nicholas “blocked his [Nathans] way and prevented his retreat.” CNN and many other media outlets framed Nicholas as “a white supremacist,” all the while perpetuating an image of Nicholas wearing a MAGA hat with a smirk on his face. 

McMurtry goes one to say, CNN “totally mischaracterized what actually happened.” Leading Nicholas and his family to be globally exposed to “literally tens of millions of re-tweets and tweets, and twitter activity by large media companies, all in condemnation of Nicholas.” 

Sharp asks if other students will be or are a part of the ongoing lawsuits?  

McMurtry responds that there are “two other groups of lawyers” representing the other Covington Catholic students. There, the other lawyers “have brought suit against individual defendants, such as Kathy Griffin.” Kathy Griffin, well known for her extremist views, demanded individual names of the Covington students and perpetuated the false narrative started by CNN and other media outlets by posting their pictures to her twitter page and allegedly inciting violence against them. 

In response, Shapiro questions if Nicholas deescalated the situation with Nathan, referencing an interview where Nicholas indicating he was deescalating the confrontation with Nathan.  

McMurtry disagrees, stating, “the media outlets that republished what happened” characterized Nicholas “in the worst-case scenario.” Media outlets perpetuated the famous one-minute clip, where Nicholas stood silent in front of Nathan smiling, or as CNN characterized it as a smirk. Additionally, “When we say [Nicholas] deescalated this,” McMurtry refers listeners to go to a video on YouTube titled: The truth in 15 minutes. There, the video shows Nicholas never approached Nathan or blocked Nathan from leaving and, at one point, asking his fellow Covington student to calm down. 

Shapiro then asks if Nicholas should have stood his ground, depicted in the video. McMurtry responded, “what Nicholas Sandman did was perfectly reasonable under the circumstance.” Although some people may disagree about standing one’s ground, the lawsuit is about “defamation, and republication of false statements,” not about where an individual decides to stand in a public space. 

Shapiro questions, what ground does Nicholas have to be initialed to a multimillion-dollar recovery? 

McMurtry replies, there are two areas to look at. “First area is the concept of perpetual reputational harm,” think about the Duke Lacrosse fiasco. However, here the “breadth and reach of social media” has made this a truly global event. For years to come, Nicholas will live in anxiety, knowing that “in any community where Nicholas Sandman goes any girl that he dates in college, any restaurant he goes to” people will know him, and there is nothing Nicholas can do about it. That is perpetual reputational harm. 

Additionally, the second area “is the whole concept of cyberbullying.” There are real consequences associated with cyberbullying. Based on an article McMurtry published, Sticks and Stones and Zeros and Ones: Defining Cyberbullying for the Legal Landscape, McMurtry explains, cyberbullying “doubles [peoples] chances of suicide, and creates long-term phycological damage.”

Sharp continues by asking if this type of case is just the beginning of many similar cases? McMurtry responds, “this case is a series of cases, that over time, as lawsuits do, they tend to temper bad conduct.” McMurtry continues that in part seeking significant damage awards, like here, serves “to let the public understand how serious” the conduct is. 

Lastly, Sharp ask how involved social media was to the instant case? 

McMurtry replies, “twitter is potentially liability. They [twitter] were the brush fire that lead to the forest fire.” Twitter implements unique algorithms “that accelerate popular tweets.” McMurtry believes those same algorithms perpetuated harmful and sometimes violent, tweets about Nicholas. Which caused Nicholas to suffer greater harm than Nicholas otherwise would have been exposed to. 

Corey Hallquist

Privacy Preference Center

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