In 2017, the New York Times editorial board viciously libeled Sarah Palin by asserting, as a fact, that she incited Jared Loughner to commit multiple murders. The Times editorial was particularly outrageous since the paper itself had already reported in news stories that this claim was untrue.
The trial court dismissed Palin’s case, applying (or misapplying) the ridiculously high bar that public figures must surmount to get a defamation case to a jury. Paul wrote about that ruling here. But that dismissal was reversed by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, and tomorrow the trial of Palin’s case will begin with jury selection in the federal court in New York City.
The Times has since corrected the editorial, acknowledging both falsely linking Palin to the violence and mischaracterizing an ad Palin’s political action committee ran, which put certain congressional districts, including Giffords, under crosshairs. Originally, the Times said the ad placed lawmakers themselves beneath the crosshairs.
To me, the Times editorial epitomizes “actual malice,” which is the legal standard that Palin must meet. They asserted, with zero factual basis, that there was a “clear” and “direct” causal relationship between a map published by Palin’s PAC and Loughlin’s six murders. In fact, there is no evidence that Loughlin ever saw the map (or, for that matter, that he had ever heard of Sarah Palin), and the Times’s own reporting stated that the smear against Palin was false. The editorialists have to be arguing that they don’t read their own newspaper.
The biggest question in the case, I think, is whether Palin can get a fair trial in deep-blue Manhattan. I do not understand why her lawyers brought the case in New York rather than Alaska. Perhaps there was some legal or tactical reason that escapes me. But I have a hard time seeing how any unbiased jury could fail to find in Palin’s favor.
At least two Supreme Court justices have expressed interest in revisiting the absurdly high legal standard that public figures must meet in order to recover for defamation. Sarah Palin’s case perhaps represents the acid test of whether it can ever be possible to recover under the current standard, and if she loses the effect could be a long overdue impetus for legal reform.