Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin gets her day in court vs. the “Gray Lady” on Monday, when her defamation lawsuit against the New York Times will be heard by a Manhattan jury.
In 2008, Palin was chosen by Sen. John McCain as his running mate in his bid for president. In 2017, the New York Times in an editorial directly linked Palin to the 2011 mass shooting in Arizona, when a gunman opened up fire on Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, wounding her and several others, killing six.
The editorial “falsely stated as a matter of fact to millions of people that Mrs. Palin incited Jared Loughner’s January 8, 2011, shooting rampage at a political event in Tucson, Arizona,” according to the complaint against the New York Times. The Times said that a Palin ad had depicted lawmakers with a gun target on them.
The Times later made a correction and even acknowledged that it had mischaracterized an ad run by a political action committee, which had shown various congressional districts around the country underneath target crosshairs.
Because The New York Times has admitted the error and called it an honest mistake, the Palin defamation case is a bit harder, and the newspaper has tried mightily to get the case dismissed. But Palin is alleging the newspaper acted in malice against her, and that is one of the tests of a libel suit.
“At issue is the elasticity of the protections that allow news organizations to present tough coverage of public figures,” Erik Wemple wrote on Friday in the Washington Post. “Or, to put things a bit more sharply, the case will help demarcate the line between really bad journalism and libelous journalism.”
According to the Freedom Forum Institute, “a public figure has to prove that the publisher of the false statements acted with ‘actual malice.’ Actual malice means that the publisher either knew that the statements were false, or acted with reckless disregard for whether they were true or false.”
The trial week will start with jury selection; prospective jurors will be asked if they know who Sarah Palin is, if they have opinions about her, the media, and the New York Times.
As the public discourse has become more harsh in recent years, it’s impossible to predict what the jury will decide in the Palin case, but her willingness to sue puts the New York Times on notice that it can’t abuse the truth to destroy reputations without consequence.