Jury Rules Against Sarah Palin in Defamation Lawsuit

On Tuesday, February 15, 2022, jurors returned a unanimous verdict of not-liable in Sarah Palin v. The New York Times Company and James Bennet. Palin, the former governor of Alaska and Republican vice presidential candidate, alleged that The New York Times defamed her in a June 2017 editorial.

The editorial in question came shortly after Steve Scalise, a conservative lawmaker from Louisiana, was shot by a left-wing domestic terrorist during practice for the Congressional Baseball Game. The editorial highlighted Palin’s 2010 political action committee advertisement showing crosshairs over congressional districts of Democratic lawmakers and claimed “the link to political incitement was clear” between the advertisement and the mass shooting in Tucson, AZ that killed six people. No proof ever emerged to support the claim that the Tucson shooter was inspired or influenced by Palin’s advertisement. The editorial also incorrectly suggested that the crosshairs were placed over lawmakers’ images. The New York Times corrected the errors in less than a day and claimed the errors were “an honest mistake.”

In the lawsuit, Palin and her attorneys alleged that the editorial caused harm and that The New York Times acted out of ideological animus. However, no evidence was provided to support these allegations. U.S. District Court Judge Jed S. Rakoff previously dismissed Palin’s lawsuit on these grounds but the appellate court overruled his decision, thus forcing the case to continue forward to trial. Prior to the jury’s verdict, Judge Rakoff indicated that he would set aside the jury’s verdict and dismiss the case, claiming that Palin failed to make a sufficient argument that the newspaper acted with actual malice. Defamation lawsuits concerning public officials or persons running for public office require actual malice, meaning that defendants either knew a statement was false or recklessly disregarded whether or not a statement is true.

Additional Reading

Sarah Palin loses defamation case against ‘The New York Times’, NPR (February 15, 2022)

Palin v. The New York Times Company and James Bennet (Case No. 1:2017cv04853)

Final Judgment in Sarah Palin v. The New York Times Company and James Bennet

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