March 30. 2023. 3:23

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Sarah Palin loses defamation case against New York Times

Former governor of Alaska Sarah Palin arrives at federal court in lower Manhattan on Monday morning. Photograph: Jefferson Siegel/New York Times

A US judge on Monday threw out former Alaska governor Sarah Palin’s lawsuit accusing the New York Times of defamation by linking her incorrectly in an editorial to a mass murder

US district judge Jed Rakoff in Manhattan said he will order dismissal of the 2008 Republican US vice-presidential candidate’s action. But in an unusual twist he will enter his order after the jury finishes its deliberations.

The judge said he expected Ms Palin to appeal and that the appeals court “would greatly benefit from knowing how the jury would decide it”.

The judge’s order effectively pre-empted a potential jury verdict to the contrary, in a case seen as a test of longstanding protections for American media.

Jurors began deliberating on Friday and resumed on Monday. They are not being told about the judge’s ruling and will continue deliberations.

Ms Palin (58) sued the newspaper – one of America’s most prominent media organisations – and its former editorial page editor James Bennet, arguing that a 2017 editorial incorrectly linked her to a mass shooting six years earlier that wounded Democratic US congresswoman Gabby Giffords.

It is rare for a big media outlet to defend its editorial practices in court, as the Times had to do in this case. Ms Palin sought unspecified monetary damages. She had said that if she lost at trial, her appeal might challenge New York Times vs Sullivan, the 1964 US supreme court decision establishing the “actual malice” standard for public figures to prove defamation.

The lawsuit concerned a June 14th, 2017, editorial headlined “America’s Lethal Politics” that addressed gun control and lamented the rise of incendiary political rhetoric. It was written the same day as a shooting at a congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia, where Republican US congressman Steve Scalise was wounded.

Tucson killings

One of Bennet’s colleagues prepared a draft that referred to the January 2011 shooting in a Tucson, Arizona, parking lot where six people were killed and Ms Giffords was wounded.

Bennet inserted language that said “the link to political incitement was clear” between the Giffords shooting and a map previously circulated by Ms Palin’s political action committee that the draft editorial said put Ms Giffords and 19 other Democrats under crosshairs.

Giving evidence, Ms Palin compared herself, a celebrated conservative politician with a national following, to the biblical underdog David against the Times Goliath, while accusing the newspaper of trying to “score political points”. Ms Palin testified that the editorial left her feeling “powerless” and “mortified”, that the correction issued by the newspaper the morning after publication was accurate but insufficient and did not mention her by name.

She maintained that the Times undermined her reputation by falsely linking her to a mass murder and by not being fast or thorough enough in correcting its error.

Ms Palin, who no longer commands as much public attention as she once did, struggled under cross-examination to provide specific examples about how the editorial harmed her reputation and cost her opportunities. – Reuters

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