Responding to Sarah Palin’s lawsuit for defamation, an attorney for the New York Times told a federal judge that the paper of record made “an honest mistake.”
On June 14, the Times published an editorial headlined “America’s Lethal Politics” in the aftermath of the shooting of GOP U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise at an Alexandria, Virginia, softball field by a Bernie Sanders supporter who attempted to assassinate a large group of Republican lawmakers and staffers before he was neutralized by Capitol police who were present as part of the Scalise security detail.
The publication attempted to tie that in with the shooting of then-Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, a Democrat who has since become a prominent gun control advocate, in January 2011 by Jared Loughner. Six people died in that attack, and 13 were injured. Loughner is currently serving a life sentence in federal prison.
The newspaper claimed that a map of various congressional districts under crosshairs distributed by Palin’s political action committee was supposedly a form of motivation for the 2011 attack. This is a long-discredited allegation, if not something akin to an urban myth, however.
After a social media outcry including from Palin herself, the Times subsequently edited its editorial to include language stating that no connection between the Arizona shooting and Palin’s map was ever validated or established, although this correction obviously does not appear in the print edition.
The former governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin rose to national prominence as the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee on the ticket with Sen. John McCain.
The Times‘ lawyer provided this explanation of what happened with the anti-Palin editorial, according to Newsday.
“There was an honest mistake in posting the editorial. It was corrected within 12 or 13 hours… So there’s no evidence that there was a knowing intent to put out misinformation.”
According to Palin’s lawyer, however, the Times explanation is undermined because it published a separate story, on the same day, reporting that the Palin allegation was false, the New York Post noted.
“There is no evidence to support the conspiracy theory that Loughner, a schizophrenic, was at all inspired by Palin’s electoral map,” previously added the Daily Caller.
“But there has never been evidence that shooter Jared Loughner, whose focus on Giffords predated Palin’s map, ever saw it, and the crosshairs were over Giffords’ district — not her face,” Newsday similarly observed.
Moreover, the kind of imagery in question for getting out the vote efforts, fundraising, and the like has traditionally been used by both parties and has nothing to do with violence.
Under U.S. law, someone deemed to be a public figure (i.e., a celebrity, politician, or other high-profile individual) has a difficult task in winning money damages in court in a defamation-related case involving libel or slander because the media industry gets a lot of slack under the Constitution and court precedent.
We got an important fact wrong, incorrectly linking political incitement and the 2011 shooting of Giffords. No link was ever established.
— NYT Opinion (@nytopinion) June 15, 2017
Unlike most cases of this nature, however, the Powerline blog suggests that Palin stands a good chance of meeting the required “actual malice” legal standard because “the Times editorialists knew that their smear was a lie, based on reporting done by the Times itself” if she can overcome the hurdle of a presumably liberal New York City jury, the blog claimed.
The parties are due back in court on July 31, with a tentative trial date of December 11, assuming there is no settlement or dismissal prior to that date.
“The New York Times, the Gray Lady of journalism, the supposed bastion of reputable news reporting and standard bearer for the rest of the media, just put in a defense to Sarah Palin’s claim of defamation, and it went like this: Oopsie,” the Washington Times quipped about the initial hearing in Manhattan federal court.
[Featured Image by Evan Vucci/AP Images]