A federal judge in Manhattan on Tuesday dismissed Sarah Palin’s defamation lawsuit against the New York Times.
“Nowhere is political journalism so free, so robust, or perhaps so rowdy as in the United States,” Judge Jed Rakoff wrote in an opinion dismissing the case. “In the exercise of that freedom, mistakes will be made, some of which will be hurtful to others.”
The former vice presidential candidate sued The Times for defamation after the paper published an editorial on mass shootings that drew a link between an advertisement from Palin’s political action committee and a 2011 shooting in Tucson, Arizona, in which six people were killed and then-Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (R-Ariz.) was severely wounded.
News: Federal judge tosses Sarah Palin’s lawsuit against the New York Times. Negligence, maybe. But “not defamation of a public figure.”
— ErikWemple (@ErikWemple) August 29, 2017
— Benjamin Weiser (@BenWeiserNYT) August 29, 2017
Palin claimed in the lawsuit that The Times falsely accused her of “inciting a mass shooting at a political event in January 2011” and of running a claim it “knew to be false.”
In the editorial, which was published online the day of the shooting at a congressional baseball practice this June, the editorial board suggested that Jared Lee Loughner, the man who carried out the Tucson massacre, was incited by a map from Palin’s PAC’s ad, which placed crosshairs over the congressional districts of several Democratic lawmakers, including Giffords’.
There is, in fact, no evidence that Loughner even saw the map, much less that he was motivated by it. The Times issued a correction the next day, but Palin filed her suit two weeks later.
Although it owned up to its error, the Times vowed to fight the case, asserting that the First Amendment protects its writers in such cases. Palin’s attorneys argued that James Bennet, the editorial page editor who wrote the offending language in the piece, had displayed a reckless disregard of the facts, and claimed that the Times had an economic incentive to invoke Palin’s name for clicks. In a motion to dismiss the case, lawyers for the Times called this premise implausible.
“Responsible journals will promptly correct their errors; others will not,” Judge Rakoff wrote. “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. Here, plaintiff’s complaint, even when supplemented by facts developed at an evidentiary hearing convened by the Court, fails to make that showing.”