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Political Litigation

Sarah Palin Set to Take New York Times to Trial on Monday

— January 23, 2022

Palin’s lawsuit has been pending against the New York Times for four years.

Former Alaska governor and U.S. vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is set to take a years-long defamation case against The New York Times to court on Monday.

As has reported before, Palin accuses the Times of falsely linking her to a mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona, which injured former Democratic Rep. Gabby Giffords, killed a federal judge, and left five others dead.

The New York Times editorial was published shortly after another shooting in Alexandria, Virginia, in which Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) was wounded.

According to The Guardian, the New York Times suggested that Palin was at least partially responsible for the Tucson shooting, pointing to a Palin P.A.C. map which put 20 Democrats—including Giffords—under “stylized cross hairs,” saying that “the link to political incitement was clear.”

In her lawsuit, Palin objected to the article and language inserted by Times’ former editorial page editor James Bennet.

U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ). Giffords was the victim of an attempted assassination in 2011. Image via Gage Skidmore/Flickr. (CCA-BY-2.0).

Palin claims that Bennet’s edits were overtly political and that, as an “experienced editor,” Bennet knew and understood the meaning of his words.

While the Times later corrected the editorial to remove any potentially defamatory language, Palin maintains that Bennet should be held accountable for damages to her reputation. Although her lawsuit does not specify a figure, Palin’s attorneys have estimated that Bennet and the Times cost Palin at least $421,000 in damages to her reputation.

Over the weekend, the New York Times issued a statement to CNN in which it explained that its editors quickly corrected the article.

“We published an editorial about an important topic that contained an inaccuracy,” the Times said. “We set the record straight with a correction. We are deeply committed to fairness and accuracy in our journalism, and when we fall short, we correct our errors publicly, as we did in this case.”

Reuters indicates that the case and its outcome could have major consequences for American politicians and media outlets. Roy Gutterman, a professor of law and communications at Syracuse University, told Reuters that a favorable outcome for Palin could herald an unintended outcome.

“This is a lawsuit over an editorial, essentially an opinion. This is a potentially dangerous area,” he said. “If we give public officials a green light to litigate on editorials they disagree with, where’s the end?”

In the lead-up to the trial, the New York Times has emphasized in its court filings that former Gov. Palin, while trying to demonstrate the paper’s “liberal bias” on firearm rights and gun control, missed the article’s underlying point: the editorial was never about her, as an individual, so much as it was about the politics of violence in the United States.

Furthermore, Gov. Palin—who faced widespread ridicule during the 2008 presidential election—has not suffered any apparent financial setbacks as a result of the article’s publication.

“Gov. Palin already was viewed as a controversial figure with a complicated history and reputation, and in the time since the editorial was published, Gov. Palin has prospered,” the Times said earlier this month.

The trial, says Reuters, is expected to last about five days.

Gutterman, meanwhile, has told Reuters he does not expect Palin to prevail, in large part because Bennet’s mistake—while potentially indicative of negligence—was not intended to wrongfully hurt Palin’s reputation.

“It’s unfortunate that this happened at one of the most prominent newspapers in the country,” he said, “but even a mistake does not rise to actual malice.”


Sarah Palin set to battle New York Times at defamation trial

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