Sarah Palin’s Defamation Suit Against New York Times Dismissed

Judge says in ruling that lawsuits against news outlets from public figures must be limited

Last Updated: August 29, 2017 @ 1:23 PM

A defamation lawsuit filed by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin against The New York Times was dismissed on Tuesday.

The lawsuit was dismissed by U.S. District Court Judge Jed Rakoff, who wrote in his ruling that Palin did not demonstrate that the Times showed actual malice against her when publishing an editorial that mistakenly connected one of her political action committees to the 2011 shooting that wounded then-Arizona Congressman Gabrielle Giffords. The Times later added a correction to the editorial.

Rakoff also said that while mistakes can be made in political reporting, lawsuits filed by public figures against news outlets must be limited.

“Responsible journals will promptly correct their errors; others will not,” read the judge’s opinion. “But if political journalism is to achieve its constitutionally endorsed role of challenging the powerful, legal redress by a public figure must be limited to those cases where the public figure has a plausible factual basis for complaining that the mistake was made maliciously, that is, with knowledge it was false or with reckless disregard of its falsity.”

“What we have here is an editorial, written and rewritten rapidly in order to voice an opinion on an immediate event of importance, in which are included a few factual inaccuracies somewhat pertaining to Mrs. Palin that are very rapidly corrected. Negligence this may be; but defamation of a public figure it plainly is not.”

The editorial was written in response to a June 14 shooting in Alexandria, VA, that wounded four people, including Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise, during a practice for an annual charity baseball game. During his testimony at an open hearing, the editorial’s writer, James Bennet, said he did not intend to imply a “causal link” between Palin’s PAC and the attack on Giffords by Jared Loughner, but was using it to illustrate “the overall climate of political incitement.”

“I didn’t mean to suggest that Loughner wasn’t responsible,” Bennet said. “I did not think that Jared Loughner was acting because of this map.”

Palin argued that the Times’ editorial board had motive to defame her, but Rakoff ruled that while Bennet and the editorial board may be opposed to Palin’s political views, that is not enough to meet the standard of actual malice that is key to defamation cases.

“It goes without saying that the Times editorial board is not a fan of Mrs. Palin. But neither the fact of that opposition, nor the supposition that a sharp attack on a disfavored political figure will increase a publication’s readership, has ever been enough to prove actual malice.”

Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.