A court date has been set for former Republican vice presidential candidate and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s defamation case against The New York Times, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
The outlet reported Tuesday that jury selection will begin on Jan. 24 and the trial will begin on Feb. 1.
This case began with a June 14, 2017, editorial from the Times that suggested that Palin’s political action committee distributed materials that played a role in the 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona, that left six people dead and a Democratic congresswoman seriously wounded.
“In 2011, when 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, the link to political incitement was clear,” the editorial said. “Before the shooting, Sarah Palin’s political action committee circulated a map of targeted electoral districts that put Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized cross hairs.”
— Jeff B. is *BOX OFFICE POISON* (@EsotericCD) June 15, 2017
In fact, Loughner’s writings showed he had planned the attack long before the Palin’s “cross hairs” map was distributed, NBC News reported.
Two days after it was published, the Times corrected the editorial.
“An editorial on Thursday about the shooting of Representative Steve Scalise incorrectly stated that a link existed between political rhetoric and the 2011 shooting of Representative Gabby Giffords. In fact, no such link was established,” it said.
“The editorial also incorrectly described a map distributed by a political action committee before that shooting. It depicted electoral districts, not individual Democratic lawmakers, beneath stylized cross hairs.”
Palin responded by suing the Times, accusing the newspaper of publishing “a statement about her that it knew to be false” and following up with a correction that failed to make up for “the falsehoods that the paper published,” NBC News reported.
“The underlying premise of the Palin Article is that there is a ‘sickening’ pattern of politically incited violence against members of Congress and that this pattern stems from Mrs. Palin’s direct and clear incitement of Loughner’s 2011 shooting in Arizona,” the lawsuit said.
“But The Times fabricated this supposed ‘pattern’ and Mrs. Palin’s role in it, resurrecting a debunked connection between Mrs. Palin’s political activities and Loughner’s 2011 rampage in Arizona. By doing so, The Times implicitly attacked the conservative policies Mrs. Palin promotes and drove its digital advertising revenues at Mrs. Palin’s expense,” it said.
In August 2017, U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff of New York dismissed the case, saying the evidence presented to prove the Times’ defamation of Palin “consists either of gross supposition or of evidence so weak that, even together, these items cannot support the high degree of particularized proof,” NPR reported.
But Palin appealed, and the lower court’s decision was overturned in August 2019.
The forthcoming trial is likely to shine a light on newsroom politics at the Times, according to the Hollywood Reporter. For example, it said, Times opinion writer Ross Douthat “expressed concern” to the editorial’s author, James Bennet, about his conclusion. Bennet resigned from the newspaper in 2020.
Another important aspect of the trial is Palin’s status as a public figure and celebrity since she was then-Arizona Sen. John McCain’s running mate in the 2008 presidential election.
In the 1964 case New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, the Supreme Court established that public officials cannot recover damages for libel unless it is proved that a statement was made with actual malice — defined as “with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not,” according to the Middle Tennessee State University First Amendment Encyclopedia.
Rakoff ruled in August 2020, three years after he had dismissed the case, that there was “sufficient evidence to allow a rational finder of fact to find actual malice by clear and convincing evidence.”
He will preside over the trial now and has reserved up to two weeks for the proceedings, according to the Hollywood Reporter. The parties will wrangle over how to pick the jury and what evidence will be admissible.
Palin’s lawyers have filed a motion to hide certain proposed exhibits from the jury because they could cause “unfair prejudice and confusion” for the jury, the New York Post reported.
Some of the exhibits include social media posts and videos of Palin’s appearance on the Fox TV show “The Masked Singer.”
Meanwhile, the attorneys for the Times “say they will bring a motion soon that’s intended to knock out some of what Palin has planned,” according to the Hollywood Reporter.
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