Sarah Palin Verdict: Jury Rejects Defamation Suit Against 'The Times' - Rolling Stone
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Sarah Palin Loses Again: Jury Rejects Defamation Suit Against ‘New York Times’

Prior to the unanimous decision, the judge overseeing the case had already decided to dismiss the suit

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin shows off a video of her birthday message after leaving federal court in New York on Friday, Feb. 11, 2022. A widely circulated New York Times editorial falsely linking former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to a mass shooting was a libelous display of arrogance and unchecked power, Palin’s lawyer said in closing arguments Friday at a defamation trial. (AP Photo/Jeenah Moon)Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin shows off a video of her birthday message after leaving federal court in New York on Friday, Feb. 11, 2022. A widely circulated New York Times editorial falsely linking former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to a mass shooting was a libelous display of arrogance and unchecked power, Palin’s lawyer said in closing arguments Friday at a defamation trial. (AP Photo/Jeenah Moon)

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin shows off a video of her birthday message after leaving federal court in New York on Friday, Feb. 11, 2022.

Jeenah Moon/AP

UDPATE (2/15): A jury has unanimously rebuffed Sarah Palin’s claim that The New York Times and its former opinion section editor defamed her in a 2017 editorial. The decision came after 13 hours of deliberation, and notably followed the judge’s decision to dismiss the case after declaring Palin’s lawyers did not provide enough evidence to meet the “actual malice” standard in defamation case. The judge, however, decided to not inform the jury of his decision and let them reach a verdict partly because he expected Palin’s team to appeal the ruling.

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A judge has ruled that Sarah Palin’s libel lawsuit against The New York Times should be dismissed, but it won’t officially be until after the jury reaches a verdict, Politico first reported.

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff ruled on a motion filed by The Times that sought to get the case tossed by arguing Palin’s lawyers hadn’t provided enough evidence to support their defamation claim. While the judge agreed withThe Times, even he acknowledged an appeal from the former Alaska governor was inevitable. That’s partly why he decided to let the jury keep deliberating and reach a verdict without telling them about the dismissal: “The Court of Appeals, I think, will greatly benefit from knowing how the jury will decide,” Rakoff said (via Law and Crime).

If a public figure is to succeed in a defamation case, as the Supreme Court ruled in the landmark 1964 case New York Times v. Sullivan, they must prove false statements were both defamatory and made with “actual malice.” In Palin’s case, Judge Rakoff ruled that her lawyers had not provided enough evidence to meet that standard.

Palin filed her lawsuit against the Times in 2017 after it published an op-ed, “America’s Lethal Politics,” that incorrectly linked ads from Palin’s political action committee to Jared Loughner’s 2011 attack on former U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords. The editorial originally claimed that the PAC had released advertisements that put “Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized cross hairs”; it was later corrected to note that the crosshairs were just referring to electoral districts, not individual lawmakers.

Palin, however, claimed the editorial caused “anguish, humiliation, embarrassment and damage to her reputation.” To pursue her case, she enlisted the help of two lawyers who spearheaded Hulk Hogan’s Peter Thiel-funded invasion of privacy lawsuit that led to the end of the original Gawker.

The trial began earlier this month, though only after a two-week delay caused by the unvaccinated Palin testing positive for Covid-19. The trial featured testimony from James Bennet, who was serving as the Times’ editorial page director at the time and was also named as a defendant in the lawsuit. While Elizabeth Williamson wrote the op-ed, Bennet testified that he was the one who edited the piece and added the lines about the PAC; while Bennet admitted he made a mistake, he claimed he did not act out of “actual malice.”

Palin also testified during the trial, claiming when The Times ran its editorial in 2017, she wasn’t the towering cultural and political figure she was after the 2008 election when she was John McCain’s vice presidential nominee. “I was powerless,” Palin claimed. “I didn’t have the [political action committee] up and running and aggressive. I didn’t have any television contracts.” (She also, however, noted in her testimony that in 2017 she “was busy” with consulting gigs and and speaking engagements.)

While Judge Rakoff’s decision to toss Palin’s lawsuit is a big win for The New York Times and First Amendment advocates, the likelihood of an appeal means the case is far from over and it could still have serious repercussions. Most crucially, if Palin manages to successfully appeal the case all the way up to the Supreme Court, she would potentially have a favorable audience in two conservative justices, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch: Last July, both issued opinions arguing that the court should revisit the defamation and libel precedents established in the 1964 Sullivan case.

In This Article: Sarah Palin, The New York Times

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