A federal judge in Manhattan has dismissed Sarah Palin’s defamation lawsuit against the New York Times, standing by the free press and the role of political journalism despite those in power in this country attacking it.
As Senior Editor at The Hollywood Reporter, Eriq Gardner put it on Twitter:
“Ah, here it is.
@nytimes beats Sarah Palin.”
Judge Jed Rakoff, from Manhattan, wrote an opinion dismissing the case:
“Nowhere is political journalism so free, so robust, or perhaps so rowdy as in the United States,” Judge Rakoff wrote. “In the exercise of that freedom, mistakes will be made, some of which will be hurtful to others.”
The New York Times editorial page editor, James Bennet, had written a piece as part of the editorial board, which was published online the same day of the shooting at the congressional baseball practice in June. The shooting resulted in four injuries, including the near-fatal injury of House majority whip, Steve Scalise.
Palin sued over a paragraph that drew a link between an ad from Palin’s PAC and a 2011 shooting in Tucson, Arizona that resulted in 6 deaths and the severe injury of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
The editorial, titled “America’s Lethal Politics,” (still published) originally said that Palin’s PAC ad showed gun cross hairs over Democratic candidate’s pictures, but in actuality, the “stylized cross hairs” were over 19 Democratic electoral districts. The distinction was corrected by the Times after publication the next day, with an apology:
“An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly stated that a link existed between political incitement and the 2011 shooting of Representative Gabby Giffords,” the Times’ correction said. “In fact, no such link was established.”
There was no evidence that the 2011 supermarket parking lot shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, had seen the Palin PAC ad. Bennet testified that he “did not intend to imply a causal link” in the piece that he had re-written from a draft by another editor.
Palin’s lawyers claimed that the Times had conjured Palin and her ad for click-bait and disregarded the facts -attempting to prove malicious intent by the Times. Judge Rakoff ruled that malicious intent was not shown:
“Responsible journals will promptly correct their errors; others will not,” Rakoff wrote. “But if political journalism is to achieve its constitutionally endorsed role of challenging the powerful, legal redress by a public figure must be limited to those cases where the public figure has a plausible factual basis for complaining that the mistake was made maliciously, that is, with knowledge it was false or with reckless disregard of its falsity. Here, plaintiff’s complaint, even when supplemented by facts developed at an evidentiary hearing convened by the Court, fails to make that showing.”
Adam Liptak, of The New York Times, Tweeted:
“Judge Jed Rakoff, dismissing Sarah Palin’s libel suit against The New York Times”
This strong defense of press freedom comes at just the right time, as Trump attacks the free press and the media almost daily, once said he wanted “to open up libel laws,” and as cases of litigation against journalists and media outlets only seem to become more common.
The Hollywood Reporter says, “Forget about Sarah Palin’s case. Focus on what CNN is facing in Georgia — a dispute that’s getting quite messy.” A case against CNN by a doctor and chief executive at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Florida, as well as findings from the class action lawsuit involving Trump University point to a defamation battle that could be taken up next by the Supreme Court.
See more about the Palin case from Newsy below:
Featured image: Screenshot via YouTube