Loading...

Second Shoe Drops for Palin in Libel Case

February 16, 2022 by Dan McCue
Second Shoe Drops for Palin in Libel Case
Sarah Palin is escorted to her car by Ron Duguay after leaving the courthouse in New York, Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

NEW YORK — The jury deliberating Sarah Palin’s libel suit against The New York Times returned a verdict against her, concluding there was insufficient evidence to prove the newspaper acted with “actual malice” when it published a 2017 editorial erroneously linking her political rhetoric with a mass shooting in Arizona.

The verdict came a day after U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff took the extraordinary step of announcing that he would dismiss the case if the jury found in her favor.

For a time, the Palin case was seen as a major test of New York Times v. Sullivan, the landmark Supreme Court decision from 1964 which stated that in order to sustain a claim of defamation or libel, the First Amendment requires that the plaintiff show that the defendant knew that a statement was false or was reckless in deciding to publish the information without investigating whether it was accurate.

In a unanimous opinion authored by Justice William Brennan, the court ruled for the Times.

When a statement concerns a public figure, the court held, it is not enough to show that it is false for the press to be chargeable for libel.

Instead, the target of the statement must show that it was made with knowledge of, or reckless disregard for, its falsity.

Brennan summarized the standard using the term “actual malice,” although in this case, he meant the phrase to mean with knowledge and gross recklessness rather than intent, since courts found it difficult to imagine that someone would knowingly disseminate false information without a bad intent.

Throughout the trial Palin attorney Kenneth Turkel tried to convince the jury that this and other legal protections accorded journalists are too broad and outdated.

But the Times and James Bennet, the former opinion editor who oversaw production of the editorial argued the editorial was simply a mistake made by human beings working on deadline.

David Axelrod, the attorney for the Times noted that Bennet asked for the opinions of other editors about the piece and said at least eight pairs of eyes at the newspaper went over it before it was posted online.

Where Turkel saw a paper trail in the email exchanges between members of the Times’ staff, Axelrod saw a record of a hastily assembled piece — with no one having time to hatch a malicious plot to defame Palin.

“Pre-publication, no one was aware that this article would be read to imply causation,” Axelrod said.

“There was no conspiracy. It was a mess-up. It was a goof. And yeah, it stinks. But because we value the First Amendment, we tolerate it. Because nothing was done here intentionally,” he said.

Palin is expected to appeal.

Palin’s suit alleged that The Times defamed her with an editorial that incorrectly drew a link between her political assertions and a shooting near Tucson, Arizona, in 2011 that left six people dead and several more wounded, including then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Giffords’ district had been one of 20 singled out on a map circulated by Palin’s political action committee underneath digitized crosshairs. However there was no evidence the shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, had ever seen or was motivated by the map.

After his arrest, two medical evaluations diagnosed Loughner with paranoid schizophrenia and ruled him incompetent to stand trial.

The editorial was published on June 14, 2017, the same day that James Hodgkinson, of Belleville, Illinois, opened fire on a baseball field in Alexandria, Virginia, where Republican congressmen were practicing for the annual Congressional Baseball Game, injuring several people, including Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana.

The headline was “America’s Lethal Politics,” and the editorial asked whether the Virginia shooting was evidence of how vicious American politics had become. The Times corrected the editorial the morning after it was published after readers pointed out the mistake.

Dan can be reached at dan@thewellnews.com and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue.

In The News

Health

Voting

Media

July 19, 2022
by Dan McCue
US Attorney Declines to Prosecute Colbert Team for Capitol ‘Disturbance’

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia has declined to press charges against staffers from “The... Read More

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia has declined to press charges against staffers from “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” who were arrested in June for allegedly trespassing in a congressional office building near the U.S. Capitol. The decision was announced... Read More

July 12, 2022
by Madeline Hughes
DC Circuit Court Rules Against FCC

WASHINGTON — The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated part of a rule from the Federal Communications Commission that sought... Read More

WASHINGTON — The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated part of a rule from the Federal Communications Commission that sought to require broadcasters to disclose if foreign governments purchase time on American television and radio airwaves in a Tuesday ruling. The opinion, written by U.S. Circuit... Read More

June 30, 2022
by Madeline Hughes
Media Union Adds Opposition to Broadcast Deal

WASHINGTON — There’s increasing scrutiny on the deal that would allow 64 local news stations to be bought by the... Read More

WASHINGTON — There’s increasing scrutiny on the deal that would allow 64 local news stations to be bought by the hedge fund Standard General. Last week the NewsGuild-Communications Workers of America and National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians-CWA filed a petition with the Federal Communications... Read More

June 21, 2022
by Dan McCue
Colbert Addresses Staff Arrests in Capitol Hill Building

WASHINGTON — “The Late Show” host Stephen Colbert used his monologue on Monday night to address the arrests of members... Read More

WASHINGTON — “The Late Show” host Stephen Colbert used his monologue on Monday night to address the arrests of members of his field production crew last week after they were found filming in a House office building without permission or proper credentials. As previously reported by... Read More

June 18, 2022
by Dan McCue
Stephen Colbert Staffers Busted for Trespassing on Capitol Hill

WASHINGTON — Seven staffers from “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” were arrested Thursday night for allegedly trespassing in a... Read More

WASHINGTON — Seven staffers from “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” were arrested Thursday night for allegedly trespassing in a congressional office building near the U.S. Capitol. In an email to The Well News, U.S. Capitol Police said that at about 8:30 p.m. on June 16,... Read More

June 17, 2022
by TWN Staff
DC Chapter of SPJ Honors Best in Local Journalism

WASHINGTON — The Well News’ Dan McCue and Well News alumni H.J. Mai were among the finalists as the Washington,... Read More

WASHINGTON — The Well News’ Dan McCue and Well News alumni H.J. Mai were among the finalists as the Washington, D.C., Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists bestowed its 2022 Dateline Awards for journalism excellence at the National Press Club Tuesday night. McCue, editor of... Read More

News From The Well