BREAKING: Jury, Judge Agree New York Times Did Not Defame Sarah Palin
The jury is back in Sarah Palin's lawsuit against the New York Times and it found the paper is not liable for defaming the former Alaska governor. Palin failed to establish that the paper had acted with "actual malice" when it published an editorial on June 14, 2017, which linked her to the 2011 shooting of Rep. Gabby Giffords.
Here's the offending statement from the piece, written in the wake of the attack on the Capitol Hill softball game in which Rep. Steve Scalise was shot and terribly injured:
In 2011, Jared Lee Loughner opened fire in a supermarket parking lot, grievously wounding Representative Gabby Giffords and killing six people, including a 9-year-old girl. At the time, we and others were sharply critical of the heated political rhetoric on the right. Before the shooting, Sarah Palin’s political action committee circulated a map that showed the targeted electoral districts of Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized cross hairs. But in that case no connection to the shooting was ever established.
The original post said “the link to political incitement was clear,” as Giffords herself said when an unknown person shattered her office window after SarahPAC's "surveyor mark" map aimed at Giffords's district, but Bennet corrected the opinion by the next morning, disavowing that "link" where the Times now says none existed. (Editrix points out that many people might call this stochastic terrorism, but that is a political, not legal, theory so we will leave that debate for another day.)
Nevertheless, the "actual malice" standard for defamation of a public figure, which was established in the 1964 Supreme Court case New York Times v. Sullivan, required Palin to prove that the Times knew that what it was printing was false, or acted with reckless disregard as to the falsity of its statements. And she failed to meet that burden.
In a sense, the verdict didn't matter at all since the court had already dismissed the case yesterday while the jury was still deliberating (the judge did so outside the jury's hearing).
“The Supreme Court made that balance and set a very high standard, and I don’t think that standard has been realized by plaintiff with respect to at least one aspect of the actual malice requirement,” US District Judge Jed Rakoff said yesterday, as reported by Politico. “I don’t think a reasonable juror could conclude that [editorial page editor James] Bennet either knew the statements were false or that he thought the statements were false and he recklessly disregarded that high probability.”
So why was the jury still allowed to reach a verdict at all?
See, the wingers have had their eyes on the prize of overturning NYT v. Sullivan for years. Most of their cases were shit, like Devin Nunes suing a cow from Twitter. But this suit was not out and out ridiculous — although it had its shortcomings, such as the Times issuing a very fast correction, Palin declining to ask for one before filing suit, and an inability for her to show any damages. Still it was seen as a better vehicle than some to get in front of the Supreme Court and allow them to unleash chaos on the American media landscape, or as Trump has put it, to "open up the libel laws."
If Palin had prevailed with the jury, only to have the suit tossed by the court — that's a judgment non obstante veredicto or JNOV to his pals — then Palin would have immediately appealed. And if the Second Circuit overruled Judge Rakoff, which they already did in 2019 after he dismissed the case the first time, the jury's verdict would have been reinstated, saving the court the need of holding another trial.
But her road is much harder now that the jury found in favor of the Times. Palin will certainly appeal in an effort to get a new trial and get NYT v. Sullivan tossed and the actual malice standard overruled. She'll probably argue, too, that the jury instructions were bad, the jury pool was contaminated, or something else "technical." But that's a long shot, so now we can all go back to never thinking about this person ever again.
Hosanna! Also, too, Katie? Open thread.
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Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.