“CNN filed a motion to dismiss the suit in May on the grounds that accusations of racism are not actionable in defamation cases because the allegation can’t be proven true or false.”
A few days ago, CNN settled with Covington Catholic High School student Nicholas Sandmann, who was suing for defamation over CNN’s coverage of the incident in January in which Sandmann and his classmates were accused of confronting and harassing a Native American man–until full video showed otherwise.
I used a quote from this National Review article as a subheading because it’s so important: Not only did CNN settle with Sandmann, tacitly admitting the news company was wrong, but its lawyers tried to argue Sandmann had no case because charges of racism are not meant to be defended against.
When someone accuses you of a real crime, it’s able to be proven true or false. Was a crime committed? Did you commit the crime or not? But what about when someone is accused of being racist or acting in a racist manner? Is that more opinion than fact? Most of the time, it’s litigated in the court of public opinion, and the accused have little recourse but to apologize for the perceived offense and hope things blow over.
CNN’s lawyers were arguing that their newscasters can call someone racist all day long, even if it hurts them in very tangible ways, and there’s nothing the target can do about it because “the allegation can’t be proven true or false.”
Sandmann, who was primarily the target of media smears, had every right to sue CNN, NBC Universal, and the Washington Post over their flawed and outrageously biased coverage of the incident. U.S. law sets a high bar in slander, libel, and defamation cases, so by settling with Sandmann, CNN is really making an admission of guilt, otherwise they would have gone to court confident the judge would dismiss the case.
Let’s be clear about what happened here: Adult professionals with college degrees trained in the news business, working for a billion-dollar corporation, actively smeared a minor child and his classmates for ratings. Unbelievable.
Charges of racism are taken very seriously in contemporary society. Just the accusation alone is enough to ruin someone’s life or business, get them fired, prevent them from attending college, and destroy friendships and relationships. They should never be used to drive web traffic and viewership to a news network.