Sarah Palin takes the New York Times to court

The next two weeks are not going to be very interesting for The New York Times.

The focus of this case is on the limits of First Amendment protections and the standard set in the New York Times landmark case versus Sullivan. Specifically, the standard by which a public figure must prove a store operates with “genuine malice” when publishing defamatory information. Palin has argued that The Times did so, and The Times has said it made an honest mistake.

“The problem is that the elasticity of protections allows news organizations to deliver tough coverage of public figures,” said Erik Wemple of the Washington Post. wrote on friday. “Or, just to be more specific, the incident will help draw the line between really bad journalism and smear journalism.”

Palin’s lawyers did not comment before the trial, but The Times did. A spokesman for the newspaper told me on Friday that it hoped to “reaffirm a fundamental principle of American law: public figures should not use libel suits to punish them.” penalize news organizations for unintentional errors.”

The spokesperson told me: “We published an editorial on an important topic that contained inaccuracies. We set a record with correction.” “We are deeply committed to fairness and accuracy in our journalism, and when there are omissions, we will publicly correct them, as we did in this case.”

Palin’s Odds

I reached out to prominent First Amendment attorney Ted Boutrous (full disclosure: Boutrous has represented CNN on previous cases) to ask him for his legal opinion. about the case. He told me he believes Palin “faces an extremely difficult battle” and is “likely to lose.”

Boutrous summarized her reading of the case as follows: “I do not think she can prove that the newspaper or its journalists acted with genuine malice or that she suffered any harm. This was quickly clarified and rectified. This lawsuit has always seemed to me to be part of a disturbing trend in recent years as the High-profile political figures abuse defamation lawsuits as political stunts in order to lower their speech on issues of public concern – precisely what the First Amendment forbids.”

‘A wonderful experience’

Jeffrey Toobin, CNN’s chief legal analyst, also agrees that Palin is likely to lose the trial. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be rainbows and unicorns for The Times in court, he stressed. “While I hope The Times wins the case in the end, the trial is likely to be a poignant experience for all involved at The Times,” Toobin told me. “Because of the simple fact that the story is wrong. And no journalist wants to be in the position of defending a false story.”

Who will be in that position for The Times? A spokesperson told me that the paper plans to call former editorial page editor James Bennet and editorial board member Elizabeth Williamson, who wrote the draft of the Palin editorial, as key witnesses. “We anticipate that others from The Times will also be called,” the spokesperson added.

Toobin warned that a settlement at 11 o’clock should not be ruled out. He pointed out: “The cases are always settled on the eve of the trial. When I asked The Times if a settlement was on the table, the spokesman replied: “We intend to take the case to judgment.” Of course, that’s what one would say – only until a deal is done.

To the Supreme Court?

If Palin loses in district court, she can try to take her case to the Supreme Court. Reducing the defense of the press by flipping the New York Times over Sullivan has, after all, been a stated goal for many on the right for some time now. And, as Toobin pointed out, “Palin is the perfect plaintiff and The New York Times is the perfect defendant for the right to campaign against First Amendment protections for the press.”

Whether it will ever make it to court, and whether it will side with Palin, is another story. “It’s still a lot to see if the current judiciary is willing to cut First Amendment protections,” Toobin told me.

Boutrous said if Palin loses the case in district court and tries to ask the Supreme Court to “use her case as a means to overturn” the landmark case, she’s still likely to failure: “I don’t think the Court will do that because the Times decision is the cornerstone of First Amendment law and it has been upheld again and again by Judges across the political scene for many years. years, although two Judges recently urged that it be reconsidered.”

The ability to backfire against reason

Coverage from mainstream news sources tends to be much more rigorous than coverage in the right-wing media. For example, Fox is putting itself in the First Amendment because it protects itself from lawsuits against voting tech companies. Dominate and Smartmatic.

This means that efforts to curtail right-wing press freedoms could backfire in huge ways. “Fox needs those protections more than The New York Times right now,” Toobin pointed out. “The New York Times made a single mistake and behaved responsibly. Fox was the gateway to a series of lies that nearly destroyed these companies and has never properly apologized.”


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