Sarah Palin will get her day in court.
Jury selection begins on Monday in the libel case the Republican former governor of Alaska is bringing against The New York Times.
The split in opinion is as partisan as the parties involved.
CNN, in a recent piece, predicted the Times would prevail, although it may be a Pyrrhic victory. Meanwhile, a New York Post columnist suggests Palin has the goods.
The case goes back 11 years.
In 2011 a certified lunatic, Jared Lee Loughner, shot up an event for former Democratic Congresswoman Gabby Giffords of Arizona. Six people died. Giffords survived a gunshot to the head but was forced to leave Congress.
At the time Palin had a political action committee that used a map of America with crosshairs to identify Democrats whom she encouraged Republicans to defeat because they had supported Obamacare. Giffords’s district was one of the 20 Democratic ones identified on the map.
In 2017, The New York Times published an editorial linking Palin to Giffords. Ironically, the Times raised the issue of Palin’s map in trying to explain why a supporter of leftist radical Sen. Bernie Sanders shot up a baseball field filled with Republican lawmakers.
“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,” the Times wrote.
The problem was that no such link between Palin’s map and the shooting of Giffords ever materialized – and still hasn’t.
The investigation found that Loughner had a longstanding grudge against Giffords that predated the shooting – and Palin’s map.
A trial judge initially dismissed Palin’s case. But an appellate court overruled that. After that decision, the trial judge, U.S. District Court Judge Jed Rakoff, commented, “(T)he evidence shows [former New York Times editorial page editor James] 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.”
One of those articles was by the Times’ fellow traveler, The Washington Post, which three days after the shooting noted, “The charge that Palin’s map had anything to do with the shooting is bogus.”
The Times is hiding behind a precedent set in a landmark Supreme Court case in 1964, in which the Times was involved. In that case, the high court set a very high bar for libel claims. The justices ruled that public figures were at the mercy of news organizations that in their reporting or commentary could publicly badmouth them almost without limit. The court said the line between protected speech and libel hinges on whether media outlets based their attack on actual malice.
The Times, shortly after the editorial, admitted there was no connection between Palin and the shooting of Giffords. The paper tried to maintain, and continues to do so, that it was an honest mistake that was quickly corrected.
But conservative columnist Kyle Smith is not sure that will fly, especially after the judge determined the Times ignored evidence that supported Palin’s claim of innocence.
“American libel law strongly favors the press rather than the people we write about, and for excellent reason. Opinions, even extremely nasty ones, are protected. Hurrah! What a dim, gray, Soviet-scented discourse we’d have in this country if it were otherwise. Also, the media can be forgiven for honest mistakes. Believe it or not, ‘We’re too dumb to know what we said was false’ is a legit defense,” Smith wrote recently.
But, he added, “the Times has put itself in a dicey spot. The Times smeared Palin, plain and simple. They thought they’d get away with it because Palin is a public figure, and the national press has been unloading on her since the day John McCain picked her to be his running mate. But Palin’s lawyers are the ones who trounced Gawker so badly in the Hulk Hogan case that the site went under. If I were the Times, I’d be looking forward to this trial about as much as you would spending winter in Juneau.”
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