Fox News star Sean Hannity once confidently declared that former Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann’s “slam dunk” defamation lawsuits would “destroy” several mainstream media outlets.
“They will all pay,” he exclaimed in 2019.
Three years later, it appears Hannity was wrong.
Sandmann was at the center of a videotaped incident at the Lincoln Memorial that quickly went viral in early 2019 and sparked politically charged debates. A MAGA-hat-clad Sandmann, who was in D.C. attending a March for Life rally, appeared to be in a standoff with Native American activist Nathan Phillips. Video of their encounter soon took social media by storm and was quickly picked up by national news outlets.
Additional video surfaced showing Phillips’ claim that Sandmann was “blocking” him to be overblown, and so right-wing media and former President Donald Trump rallied around the Covington teen.
Ultimately, Sandmann and his family sued several large media companies for defamation, citing their use of Phillips’ account in their coverage.
This week, U.S. District Judge William Bertelsman sided with five of those media companies—ABC, CBS, The New York Times, Rolling Stone, and Gannett—tossing out Sandmann’s suit against them while stating that much of his legal argument was “without merit.”
“As noted above, the Court expressly held that while the allegations of Sandmann’s complaints passed the ‘plausibility’ test at the pleading stage, and that discovery should be had on the context of Phillips’s statements, the actionability of the statements would be revisited on summary judgment,” Bertelsman wrote in his judgment. “Sandmann’s insistence that the Court cannot now revisit this legal issue is ironic considering that he vigorously, and successfully, moved the Court to reconsider its initial ruling in The [Washington] Post case.”
The judge noted that Sandmann’s case had initially been tossed in July 2019 as “the Court held that none of the statements were actionable for various reasons,” adding that he only agreed to revive the matter on “narrow” grounds after the student later filed a motion to reconsider.
Since then, three news companies—CNN, The Washington Post, and NBC—eventually settled with Sandmann for undisclosed terms. The Post admitted no wrongdoing and maintained that its reporting was accurate. Sandmann and his family initially sought $250 million in their lawsuit.
Shortly after Sandmann filed his lawsuit against the Post in Feb. 2019, Hannity interviewed his then-attorney Lin Wood. (Wood would later become infamous for his attempts to overturn President Biden’s 2020 election victory.)
After Wood said there could potentially be “hundreds” of lawsuits against the “wrongdoers” who purportedly defamed Sandmann, Hannity asserted that the media is “going to lose” before offering up a big prediction.
“Lin Wood is going to destroy every one of these big media outlets!” Hannity exclaimed. “I guarantee you. It is a slam dunk! And they will all pay.”