Judge Allows Sarah Palin’s Lawyers to Grill New York Times Editor in Defamation Case

The testimony will determine whether Times’ motion to dismiss will be granted

The New York Times’ editorial page editor James Bennet will testify in a defamation lawsuit against the news outlet filed by former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, Times’ deputy general counsel David McCraw said.

Bennet’s testimony is necessary to determine whether or not to grant a motion set forth by The Times last month seeking to dismiss the case, Judge Jed S. Rakoff of Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled Thursday.

“One close question presented by [The Times’] motion is whether the Complaint contains sufficient allegations of actual malice, an essential element of the claim,” Judge Rakoff said in his order. “To a large extent, determination of that issue may turn on what inferences favorable to the plaintiff are reasonable given the circumstances alleged in the Complaint.”

Judge Rakoff points out in his order that the complaint “alleges that the allegedly false statements of fact that are the subject of the Complaint were contradicted by information already set forth in prior news stories published by the Times.” These prior stories, however, would only be an example of actual malice if the author of the editorial was aware of them — information that is “peculiarly within the knowledge of defendant.”

Palin filed the lawsuit in United States District Court for the Southern District of New York in June, saying that The Times had published a statement about her in an editorial that it “knew to be false.”

The editorial in question was published after the shooting that injured several and landed Rep. Steve Scalise in the hospital at a baseball field where Republican congressmen were practicing for a charity game. The editorial, published June 14, is online, with the following correction:

“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. 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.”

The original story said Palin’s “political action committee circulated a map of targeted electoral districts that put Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized cross hairs.”

The day after the editorial was originally published, The Times sent out a correction on Twitter, saying “We got an important fact wrong, incorrectly linking political incitement and the 2011 shooting of Giffords. No link was ever established. We’re sorry about this and we appreciate that our readers called us on the mistake. We’ve corrected the editorial.”

In her lawsuit, Palin said The Times “did not approach the degree of the retraction and apology necessary and warranted by The Times’s false assertion that Mrs. Palin incited murder.”

The evidentiary hearing will take place Wednesday, Aug. 16.

Pamela Chelin contributed to this story