© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin speaks while campaigning for U.S. Senate candidate Judge Roy Moore at the Historic Union Train Station in Montgomery, Alabama, U.S., May 21 September 2017. REUTERS / Tami Chappell
By Jonathan Stempel and Helen Coster
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska and the 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate, spent 4-1/2 years battling the New York Times over an editorial she wrote. She said she had falsely linked a fatal shooting in Arizona that seriously injured the US Congresswoman.
On Monday, Palin was getting ready to try to begin convincing jurors in a lawsuit in Manhattan federal court that the newspaper and its former editorial page editor James Bennet libeled her.
The trial before US District Judge Jed Rakoff marked a rare case of a major media company defending its editorial practices before a US grand jury. The opening statement could take place as soon as Monday, following the jury’s choice.
Palin took a high responsibility for presenting clear and convincing evidence that there was “genuine malice” involved in the editorial process of the newspaper.
“This is a lawsuit about an editorial, it’s basically an opinion. This is a potentially dangerous area,” said Roy Gutterman, a professor of law and media at Syracuse University. “If we give the green light to public officials to sue over editorials with which they disagree, then where?”
Palin, 57, accused the Times of defaming her in a June 14, 2017 editorial linking her political action committee (PAC) to the 2011 mass shooting in a parking lot in Arizona left six dead and then-U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords injured. Palin is asking for unspecified damages, but court papers estimate $421,000 in damages to her reputation.
The editorial said “a link to political agitation was evident” in the 2011 shooting, and the incident came after Palin’s PAC released a map placing 20 Democrats including Giffords under “stylized cross hairs”.
It was announced following a shooting in Alexandria, Virginia, in which U.S. Representative Steve Scalise, a member of the House Republican leadership, was wounded.
Palin objected to the language Bennet had added to a draft prepared by a Times colleague. She said the added material fits Bennet’s “predestined story” and as an “experienced editor” he knows and understands the meaning of his words.
The Times quickly corrected the editorial to deny any connection between the political rhetoric and the Arizona shooting, and Bennet said he did not intend to blame Palin.
Benjamin Zipursky, a law professor at Fordham University, said Bennet’s “kind of immediate emergency or panic mode” when he knew what had happened showed he was unaware of any mistake. .
“Negligence or carelessness – even gross negligence – is clearly not good enough for Palin to win,” Zipursky said.
COURT OF EXACT SUPREME
It’s been 58 years since the US Supreme Court adopted the “factual malice” standard in its landmark New York Times v. Sullivan decision, making it difficult for public figures to win cases. smear.
Two current judges, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, have recommended that the standard be revisited.
Palin has signaled in court papers that she will challenge the Sullivan case precedent on appeal if she loses at trial.
Don Herzog, a University of Michigan law professor, said Palin would have trouble proving that the Times “subjectively doubted or distrusted” the truth of what it presented as the truth.
“In the context and type of publication, this is a matter of opinion and simply cannot be acted upon in defamation,” Herzog said.
While the trial may highlight office politics at the Times, the newspaper could argue that the mistakes happened under pressure of a deadline.
It is said that despite Palin’s efforts to show “liberal bias” and views on gun control, the editorial was never about her and did not tarnish her reputation.
“Governor Palin has been considered a controversial figure with a complicated history and reputation, and in the time since the editorial was published, Governor Palin has prospered,” the Times said. in a court filing dated January 17.
The trial is expected to last five days.
Gutterman said he hopes the Times will prevail.
“It’s unfortunate that this happened in one of the most popular newspapers in the county, on time, but even a single mistake didn’t turn out to be genuine malice,” Gutterman said.