Sarah Palin puts NY Times in legal crosshairs

Sarah Palin / Wikipedia photo

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has made the mainstream media boatloads of money as they covered her relentlessly over the years, usually in unflattering terms.

Now, she wants some of that money back.

Palin filed suit against The New York Times today. Her lawsuit says the Gray Lady defamed her in an editorial that essentially blamed her political action committee for causing the shooting of former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

The editorial was titled “America’s Lethal Politics,” and insinuated that Palin’s “crosshairs” rhetoric resulted in the shooting that killed six people and wounded 13, including then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, during a meet-and-greet on Jan. 8, 2011 outside a Safeway store in Casas Adobes, Arizona. The editorial put it this way:

“In 2011, Jared Lee Loughner opened fire in a supermarket parking lot, grievously wounding Representative Gabby Giffords and killing six people, including a 9-year-old girl. At the time, we and others were sharply critical of the heated political rhetoric on the right. Before the shooting, Sarah Palin’s political action committee circulated a map that showed the targeted electoral districts of Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized cross hairs. 

After receiving criticism, The Times clarified the paragraph and added, “But in that case no connection to the shooting was ever established.”

Palin alleges The Times published “a statement about her that it knew to be false: that Mrs. Palin was responsible for inciting a mass shooting at a political event in January 2011.”

Defamation of a public figure is a difficult hill for famous plaintiffs to climb in court. In many states, defamation law requires that public figures show there was actual malice, which means the defendant knew a statement about a public figure was untrue or treated the veracity of the statement with reckless disregard.

The newspaper had issued a more full-throated correction of the recent story about the shooting of congressman Scalise, one that did not clear Palin’s name specifically nor mention the name of her political action committee:

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. In fact, no such link was established. 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.

The Palin complaint finds the correction lacking: “As the public backlash over The Times’ malicious column mounted, it responded by making edits and ‘corrections’ to its fabricated story, along with half-hearted Twitter apologies–none of which sufficiently corrected the falsehoods that the paper published. In fact, none mentioned Mrs. Palin or acknowledged that Mrs. Palin did not incite a deranged man to commit murder.”

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