A federal judge has dismissed Sarah Palin’s defamation lawsuit against the New York Times, finding the newspaper did not act maliciously in accidentally linking the former vice presidential candidate’s name with a June 14 shooting spree that injured several members of Congress.
“If political journalism is to achieve its constitutionally endorsed role of challenging the powerful, legal redress by a public figure must be limited to those cases where the public figure has a plausible factual basis for complaining that the mistake was made maliciously, that is, with knowledge it was false or with reckless disregard of its falsity,” wrote U.S. Judge Jed Rakoff of the Southern District of New York in his opinion dismissing the case on Tuesday.
In an op-ed piece about gunman James Hodgkinson shooting Republican congressman Steve Scalise and others playing baseball in Virginia that ran online June 14 and in print the following day, the Times editorial board made comparisons to the January 2011 shooting rampage in which Jared Lee Loughner killed six people, seriously wounding house member Gabby Giffords. The Times stated that Loughner was motivated by a Palin political action committee map featuring Democratic politicians in the crosshairs of a gun sight, evidence labeled the “SarahPAC Map.”
However, news reports of the 2011 event eventually discredited the theory of Loughner acting under the influence of the circulated SarahPAC Map. (The online Times article actually hyperlinked to an ABC News story specifying the two events were not linked.)
Palin filed suit June 27.
Although the editorial was signed by the New York Times editorial board, the facts revealed that a draft by editorial writer Elizabeth Williamson, subsequently rewritten by editorial page editor James Bennett contained the error. Judge Rakoff wrote the error off as an unintentional mistake – one that did not meet the standard for defamation, which is malice or reckless disregard. The Times subsequently ran multiple corrections.
“What we have here is an editorial, written and rewritten rapidly in order to voice an opinion on an immediate event of importance, in which are included a few factual inaccuracies somewhat pertaining to Mrs. Palin that are very rapidly corrected,” Judge Rakoff wrote. “Negligence this may be; but defamation of a public figure it plainly is not.”