A federal judge has dismissed a defamation lawsuit filed by Sarah Palin against The New York Times, ruling that Palin’s complaint failed to show that a mistake in an editorial was made maliciously. The editorial accused Palin of having incited Jared Loughner to murder six people, including a sitting Congresswoman, a federal judge, and a nine year old girl.
The supposed incitement was an online map with “targeted” Democratic districts. The Times alleged that Palin’s “incitement” of Loughner’s crime was “clear” and “direct.” Yet, there is no evidence that Loughner ever saw the online map. Nor could the map be viewed as incitement to murder people.
In dismissing Palin’s case, Judge Jed Rakoff, a liberal appointed by President Clinton, explained:
What we have here is an editorial, written and rewritten rapidly in order to voice an opinion on an immediate event of importance, in which are included a few factual inaccuracies somewhat pertaining to Mrs. Palin that are very rapidly corrected. Negligence this may be; but defamation of a public figure it plainly is not.
Nowhere is political journalism so free, so robust, or perhaps so rowdy as in the United States. But if political journalism is to achieve its constitutionally endorsed role of challenging the powerful, legal redress by a public figure must be limited to those cases where the public figure has a plausible factual basis for complaining that the mistake was made maliciously.
I agree with this statement. And, alas, I understand better than most how easy it is to make factual errors when quickly writing an opinion piece.
But is Judge Rakoff correct that Sarah Palin has no plausible factual basis for complaining that the Times’ mistake was made maliciously? That’s the real question.
I haven’t examined the record, followed the case closely, or yet read Rakoff’s opinion. Thus, I express no view on the merits.