In June 2017, The New York Times published an editorial that claims to link Sarah Palin to the 2011 shooting involving former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Palin sued The New York Times company for defamation in a lawsuit that just became reinstated as of August 7th, 2019.
James Bennett, a New York Times editor wrote the piece in question. The story alleged that a map of electoral districts distributed by Palin’s political action committee had cross hairs on certain states in connection to the 2011 Gabrielle Giffords shooting. According to CNBC, the appeals court ruling noted that The Times editorial argued “that these two political shootings evidenced the ‘vicious’ nature of American politics.”
However, the Times later issued a correction saying that there was no actual link between Palin and the shooting, according to The New York Times.
A federal appeals court made the decision to reinstate the 2017 case because the appellate panel believes that Judge Jed Rakoff of U.S. District Court in Manhattan had relied on facts outside of legal findings in the case, according to CNBC. Rakoff dismissed the case after hearing the testimony of Bennett. The appeals panel ruled that it was not for a judge to decide whether or not Bennet acted with actual malice when writing the piece in question and therefore Palin’s case still remains plausible, according to The New York Times.
“This case is ultimately about the First Amendment, but the subject matter implicated in this appeal is far less dramatic: rules of procedure and pleading standards,” said the appeals panel in a quote published by CNBC.
Palin is considered a public figure when it comes to defamation law because she is a political figure. In order to succeed in a defamation lawsuit, public figures are required to prove the defendant acted with actual malice. Now that the case is reinstated, Palin will have the chance to prove to the court that Bennet acted with actual malice, meaning that he was aware that the information connecting Palin to the shooting was false, but he decided to publish it anyways.
Some may wonder why this case was reinstated when the New York Times has already issued issued a correction. However, the motives behind this lawsuit are not necessarily meant to restore Plain’s reputation. In fact, in an email statement published by CNBC, Palin’s attorneys Elizabeth Locke and Ken Turkel said, “This is—and has always been—a case about media accountability. We are pleased with the Court’s decision, and we look forward to starting discovery and ultimately proceeding to trial.”
If Palin were to win this case, it has the potential to become a landmark case for future lawsuits involving the news media.
According to Daniel R. Warner, a founding partner at RM Warner Law, “The court of appeals was spot on in its decision. When deciding a procedural motion, such as a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the trial court must consider all of the allegations in the complaint to be true and must not look outside of the pleadings. However, the trial court may still have a chance to dismiss the case after discovery has been conducted. If the defense files a motion for summary judgment, and Palin is unable to produce some evidence of actual malice, the trial court would be correct to dismiss the case.
This blog will be updated as the case continues so be sure to check back here for more.
February 18th, 2022 Update:
After a lengthy civil trial, a jury has ruled against the former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin in her lawsuit against the New York Times, stating that the publication is not liable for defaming her.
James Bennet, a former editorial page editor testified that the article, which he corrected the day after it was published, was his fault due to his desire to rush out the editorial on June 14, 2017.
The jury’s verdict was unanimous, aligning with U.S. District Court Judge Jed Rakoff, who had already dismissed the case while the jury was deliberating on Monday.
The judge stated that he predicts the case will inevitably be appealed so to benefit the court of appeals, he decided to allow the jury to come to their own ruling before announcing his dismissal of the lawsuit. He made the jury aware of his decision after they delivered its verdict on Tuesday.
Ken Turkel, Sarah Palin’s attorney, said afterward that her team would evaluate all options, including a possible appeal- however, Palin did not speak to reporters.
Although the trial shined a negative light on the New York Times, being as this is the first libel suit against them to make it to trial in nearly two decades, Palin still had to prove the New York Times acted out of “malice” when it falsely linked her to the shooting of Giffords. This is a difficult legal bar to clear, and one she apparently failed to tackle during this trial.
However, it is important to note that actual malice must be proven in order to win a defamation lawsuit if you are a public figure. Actual malice in a defamation case may vary, jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but typically it is when a public figure must prove that the accused acted with reckless disregard for the truth or falsity.
Nevertheless, Bennet’s admittance of his serious error has caused the New York Times’ reputation to take a serious hit.
If you’ve been falsely accused of a crime or other false and defamatory accusations, call us today to speak with one of our defamation lawyers.
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