Judge Says He’ll Dismiss Sarah Palin’s Libel Suit Against The New York Times

February 15, 2022 by Dan McCue
<strong>Judge Says He’ll Dismiss Sarah Palin’s Libel Suit Against The New York Times</strong>
Sarah Palin leaves the courthouse in New York, Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

NEW YORK — The judge presiding over Sarah Palin’s libel suit against The New York Times announced Monday afternoon that he intends to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds the former Alaska governor failed to prove the newspaper acted with “actual malice” against her.

U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff revealed his unusual decision while the jury continued to deliberate and without telling it what he planned to do.

He also said that because the case will likely go on to an appeal, he would allow the jury to continue to deliberate.

The case went to the jury on Friday, when it deliberated for about two hours before calling it a day. It resumed its deliberations Monday morning.

Palin sued The New York Times over an editorial the paper ran linking her political speech to deadly gun incidents following the shooting of members of the Republican congressional baseball team as they practiced in Alexandria, Virginia, in June 2017.

The Times editorial also referenced the 2011 shooting in former Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ Arizona district that left six people dead and Giffords seriously injured.

The newspaper stated Palin’s political action committee had contributed to an atmosphere of violence beforehand by circulating a map of electoral districts that put Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized crosshairs.

But in a correction two days later, the Times said the editorial had “incorrectly stated that a link existed between political rhetoric and the 2011 shooting” and that it had “incorrectly described” the map.

Palin sued the Times for unspecified damages in 2017, accusing it of damaging her career as a political commentator.

The jury was asked to decide whether James Bennet, the Times’ former opinion editor, acted with “actual malice,” meaning he knew what he wrote was false, or with “reckless disregard” for the truth. 

Bennett testified during the trial Wednesday that he botched the edit but intended no harm.

“I’ve regretted it pretty much every day since. … That’s on me. That’s my failure,” he said.

As for Palin, who spent about 20 minutes on the stand last week, the 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate at one point alleged that the Times had libeled her not once, but numerous times since she emerged on the national political stage.

But when she was asked to provide specifics, Palin came up empty.

“My view was [that] The New York Times took a lot of liberties and wasn’t always truthful,” she said. 

During closing arguments on Friday, Palin’s attorney, Kenneth Turkel, pointed to emails Bennet had exchanged with others at the Times that the lawyer said showed the editor was determined to draw a connection between Palin’s political speech and the violence.

“The evidence that James Bennet acted with high probability of reckless disregard for the truth permeates through this record,” Turkel said. 

David Axelrod, the attorney for the Times, argued exactly the opposite. He 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.

Axelrod also noted that Bennet acted quickly when the editorial began to be called into question after publication.

Bennet testified he was up shortly after 5 a.m. trying to find a way to fix the mistake, eventually making sure the correction was highly visible.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue

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