Former Alaska Republican Gov. Sarah Palin’s defamation lawsuit against The New York Times is going to trial.
Palin sued The Times and then-editorial page director James Bennet for libel over a June 2017 editorial in which the newspaper referenced a map published by Palin’s former political action committee, SarahPAC, that showed crosshairs over several Democratic-held congressional districts, Fox News reported.
The editorial linked the map, which concerned Obamacare, to the 2011 shooting of Gabrielle Giffords — who at the time was a member of Congress representing Arizona — by Jared Loughner.
Although the Times published a correction that acknowledged two factual errors in the article, Palin still sued.
“This is — and has always been — a case about media accountability,” Palin’s lawyer, Libby Locke, told Reuters last year, when the former vice presidential nominee won a round in court that kept her suit from being dismissed.
Both sides had requested that U.S. District Court Judge Jed S. Rakoff issue a summary judgment.
The judge rejected Palin’s claim that the standard of actual malice need not be used in her case.
The actual malice standard in libel law requires that individuals who are public figures prove that whoever published false information about them did so “with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not,” according to the Supreme Court’s 1964 ruling in New York Times v. Sullivan.
Rakoff said Supreme Court precedent requires that standard — and not just the issue of whether the information published was false — to be used.
The judge also threw out the request by The Times to dismiss the suit.
He wrote that Palin “meets her burden of adducing evidence that, taken in the light most favorable to plaintiff, could enable a rational jury to conclude that Bennet either knew, or was reckless not to know, that his words would carry the defamatory meaning.”
The judge said four pieces of evidence presented to date could be used to support that interpretation of events.
The corrections published by The Times “stand as further circumstantial evidence that Bennet was aware that the Editorial carried a defamatory meaning,” he wrote.
Rakoff said Palin “has sufficiently pointed to enough triable issues of fact that would enable a jury to find by clear and convincing evidence that Bennet knew, or was reckless not to know, that his words would convey the meaning in the minds of the readers that plaintiff asserts was libelous, to wit, that she bore a direct responsibility for inciting the Loughner shooting.”
Rakoff did say he thought The Times made a powerful argument that the process of drafting the editorial to which Palin objected was aboveboard.
But he added that looking at the things from Palin’s perspective, “the evidence shows Bennet came up with an angle for the Editorial, ignored the articles brought to his attention that were inconsistent with his angle, disregarded the results [of] the … research that he commissioned, and ultimately made the point he set out to make in reckless disregard of the truth.
“Accordingly, the Court concludes that there is sufficient evidence to allow a rational finder of fact to find actual malice by clear and convincing evidence,” he wrote.
The trial will begin on Feb. 1, 2021.
After the ruling was issued, Palin tweeted: “Humbled and thankful.”
Humbled and thankful. https://t.co/iPHMchWBhv
— Sarah Palin (@SarahPalinUSA) August 29, 2020
“We’re disappointed in the ruling but are confident we will prevail at trial when a jury hears the facts,” a Times spokeswoman said in a statement.
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