After a four-year wait, Sarah Palin’s libel case against The New York Times will move forward with jury selection scheduled to begin Monday.
U.S. District Court Judge Jed Rakoff has announced that date in a federal courthouse in Manhattan, blocking off an estimated two weeks for the trial.
“This trial is not only entertaining, it will address an important principle: you don’t get to make up nasty stuff about somebody you don’t like and print it anyway,” the New York Post’s Kyle Smith wrote in an editorial after the announcement the case will go to trial.
“Reminding us that there is punishment in store for those who do this could move us a half-a-baby-step closer to restoring civility in the discourse.”
Palin has alleged that the Times’ 2017 editorial linking one of her political action committee ads to the 2011 mass shooting that wounded then-Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., “violated the law and its own policies” in suggesting the ad incited the attack by shooter Jared Lee Loughner.
Palin’s legal team will have to prove actual malice by editorial author James Bennet, who wrote: “Before the shooting, Sarah Palin’s political action committee circulated a map that showed the targeted electoral districts of Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized cross hairs.”
Hours after the editorial ran, the Times revised the editorial and published a series of corrections, adding “no connection to the shooting was ever established.”
Rakoff had initially dismissed Palin’s lawsuit for a “cognizable lack of actual malice,” but the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Rakoff and the complaint was revived.
Rakoff then ruled, “the evidence shows Bennet came up with an angle for the editorial, ignored the articles brought to his attention that were inconsistent with his angle … and ultimately made the point he set out to make in reckless disregard of the truth.”
Palin is represented by Shane Vogt at Bajo Cuva Cohen Turkel, while The New York Times’ case is in the hands of David A. Schulz at Ballard Spahr.
“They tried to make a banquet out of a crumb: they discovered Palin’s PAC had put out a map about defeating Obamacare that was illustrated with crosshairs to identify congressional districts as potential pickups for the GOP,” Smith wrote. “‘Target,’ ‘campaign,’ ‘crosshairs’ and the like are long-standing military metaphors used in election battles. (Battles. There’s another one.)
“Nobody goes, ‘Aaaaaugh, you’re trying to get me killed!’ when a press release mentions that this or that incumbent is being ‘targeted.'”
Smith noted Palin’s map was targeting congressional districts by the GOP to defeat Obamacare.
“Did Giffords’ shooter ever see this map? No, not that we know of,” Smith wrote. “Moreover, he had no clear political views. Instead, he simply harbored an obsessive hate for Giffords specifically, which was documented back to three years before the map’s existence. Three days after the shooting, Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler wrote, ‘The charge that Palin’s map had anything to do with the shooting is bogus.'”
A Times spokesman told CNN’s Oliver Darcy he hopes the case will “reaffirm a foundational principle of American law: public figures should not be permitted to use libel suits to punish unintentional errors by news organizations.”
“We published an editorial about an important topic that contained an inaccuracy,” the paper’s spokesman said. “We set the record straight with a correction.
“We are deeply committed to fairness and accuracy in our journalism, and when we fall short, we correct our errors publicly, as we did in this case.”
The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple wrote Friday the case will help “demarcate” a line between “really bad journalism” and libel.
“At issue is the elasticity of the protections that allow news organizations to present tough coverage of public figures,” Wemple wrote. “Or, to put things a bit more sharply, the case will help demarcate the line between really bad journalism and libelous journalism.”
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