Just more than two months after Sarah Palin went after the New York Times for incorrectly linking her to the 2011 shooting in Arizona involving Rep. Gabby Giffords, the 2008 Republican Vice Presidential candidate and sometimes reality TV host today saw her defamation lawsuit come to a sudden end.
“Negligence this may be; but defamation of a public figure it plainly is not,” U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff wrote in a ruling (read it here) dismissing the case with prejudice.
“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,” the judge said Tuesday.
The opinion and order follows an unusually rare hearing earlier this month in which Times editorial page editor James Bennet testified in the matter. In court in Manhattan, Bennet said he did not intend to draw a “causal link” between the 2011 shooting that left Giffords severely wounded and a notorious “crosshairs” map distributed at the time by a Sarah Palin PAC.
Listening to Bennet’s testimony and considering the circumstances of law and otherwise, Rakoff made the call that Palin’s case could not effectively demonstrate actual malice, as would be required to move the matter forward. “Here, plaintiff’s complaint, even when supplemented by facts developed at an evidentiary hearing convened by the Court, fails to make that showing,” the 26-page document from the judge adds. “Accordingly, the complaint must be dismissed.”
Initially, the June 14, 2017 editorial “America’s Lethal Politics” did put forth that the Palin PAC “circulated a map of targeted electoral districts that put Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized crosshairs,” offering it as an example of “incitement” to violence. The op-ed came the same day of the horrific shooting of GOP Rep. Steve Scalise and others in Congress during practice for a charity baseball game.
The Times quickly recognized the overreach and issued a correction to the online version of the editorial:
“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,” the correction said. “In fact, no such link was established,” it added. “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.”
That wasn’t enough for the former Alaska governor and ex-Fox News Channel contributor, who sued June 27.
“As set forth in her Complaint, Mrs. Palin seeks to hold The Times to its November 13, 2016, pledge, and to face both journalistic and financial accountability for the false statements that it published about Mrs. Palin,” the politician’s lawyers said in the filing.
Palin was represented by attorneys from the NYC firm of Golenbock Eiseman Assor Bell & Peskoe LLP; and Tampa-based Bajo Cuva Cohen Turke. Lawyers from the NYC and DC offices of Levine Sullivan Koch ad Schulz were working for The New York Times, along with Thomas Leatherbury of Dallas’ Vinson & Elkins LLP.