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Media & Society

Judge to dismiss Sarah Palin's defamation suit against 'New York Times'

Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin at a rally, in 2017.
Brynn Anderson
/
AP
Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin at a rally, in 2017.

Palin sued the newspaper over a 2017 editorial that wrongly linked an ad by her political action committee to the shooting of then-Rep. Gabby Giffords in 2011.

A federal judge announced Monday afternoon he would dismiss former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's defamation lawsuit against The New York Times, saying her legal team had failed to reach the high standards required for public figures to make their case.

The case centered on a June 2017 Times editorial that Palin's attorneys argued accused her of inciting murder six years earlier in a mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona that also gravely wounded then Rep. Gabby Giffords.

The New York Times's legal teams argued she had not shown that the paper or its former editorial page editor, James Bennet, had been motivated by "actual malice," in which he would have had to known his characterization was false or that he would have known the probability of it being false was so great as to mean that he was acting with reckless indifference to the facts.

And with evident reluctance, U.S. Judge Jed Rakoff embraced that reasoning, saying Palin's lawyers failed to present any such evidence against Bennet, who had inserted the problematic language in the article.

The Times's attorneys filed their motion before Rakoff turned the trial over to the jury, who have been deliberating for a day. The judge said he would formally dismiss the case after the jury verdict so an appellate court could consider their findings, in full knowledge Palin would appeal his ruling.

"Ms. Palin was subjected to an ultimately unsupported and very serious allegation that Mr. Bennet chose to revist seven years or so after the underlying events," Rakoff said. "So I don't mean to be understood. I think this is an example of very unfortunate editorializing on the part of The Times."

"My job is to apply the law," Rakoff continued. "The law here sets a very high standard for 'actual malice' and to this case the court finds that that standard has not been met."

The trial represented a dramatic confrontation of the self-professed hockey mom from Wasilla, Alaska with one of the nation's most august news outlets. When she broke onto the national political scene in 2008 as Republican presidential candidate John McCain's running mate, Palin routinely derided the press as the "lamestream media." Her routine, folksy attacks on the media helped pave the way for Donald Trump's candidacy.

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