Commentary

Court Revives Sarah Palin's Defamation Suit Against 'New York Times'

Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s defamation suit against The New York Times can proceed, a court ruled this week.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan determined that a lower-court judge was wrong to dismiss her case two years ago.

The former Alaska governor in 2017 sued the newspaper, arguing its op-ed page incorrectly linked her to a 2011 mass shooting that severely wounded Gabrielle Giffords, the former congresswoman from Arizona.

Palin’s political action committee had previously distributed a map of electoral districts, some with crosshairs on them. She argued the NYT had connected the map to the shooting despite knowing that tie to be false. The NYT later published a correction that said there wasn’t any link between the political rhetoric and the shooting.

“This case is ultimately about the First Amendment, but the subject matter implicated in this appeal is far less dramatic: rules of procedure and pleading standards,” Circuit Court Judge John Walker wrote in his opinion.

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The appellate panel said Judge Jed Rakoff of U.S. District Court in Manhattan had “erred” by relying on evidence outside of legal filings in the case to dismiss the suit.

The evidence consisted of testimony by James Bennet, the NYT editorial page editor who had written the op-ed.

Bennet testified that he had been unaware of past articles in the NYT and The Atlantic, where he previously was editor in chief, reporting no connection between Palin and her PAC and Jared Loughner, who pled guilty to the shooting that left six people dead and 13 wounded.

He said he didn’t intend to blame Palin for the shooting of Giffords, but was making a broader statement about the country’s heated political environment. Palin claimed that Bennet inserted the allegedly defamatory statements during the editing process.

“This is — and has always been — a case about media accountability,” Libby Locke and Ken Turkel, lawyers for Palin, stated. “We are pleased with the court’s decision, and we look forward to starting discovery and ultimately proceeding to trial.”

“We are disappointed in the decision and intend to continue to defend the action vigorously,” Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for the NYT, stated.

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