Sarah Palin leaves during her lawsuit against the New York Times at the United States Courthouse in New York City, February 10, 2022.
The judge in Sarah Palin’s libel suit against the New York Times announced on Monday that he will move to dismiss the lawsuit after the jury reaches its verdict.
U.S. District Court judge Jed Rakoff ruled that the case should be thrown out because Palin’s lawyers failed to bring sufficient evidence showing that Times editors acted with “actual malice,” i.e. knowingly publishing false statements or acting with reckless disregard for the truth.
Rakoff was ruling on motions by Times attorneys to dismiss the case, even though the jury in the trial began deliberations on Friday.
“I think this is an example of very unfortunate editorializing on the part of the Times,” Rakoff told the court. “Having said that, that is not the issue before the court. The law sets a very high standard for actual malice.”
Rakoff acknowledged that Palin would almost certainly appeal the ruling, and said he would not file his ruling until the jury has reached a verdict.
Palin sued the Times and former editorial page head James Bennet in 2017, after an editorial included language linking Palin’s PAC to the 2011 shooting of former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. The editorial, titled “America’s Lethal Politics,” initially stated that “the link to political incitement was clear” from a graphic circulated by the PAC that showed 20 Democratic congressional districts, including Giffords’s, under crosshairs.
The language linking the graphic to Giffords’s shooting was added by Bennet to a draft of the editorial. However, the Times corrected the editorial shortly after publication, saying that there was no link between the two. Bennet has maintained that he made an error in adding the language in question to the editorial.
“The First Amendment provides legal protection to journalists and newspapers, like Mr. Bennet, like the New York Times, who make an honest mistake when they write about a person like Sarah Palin,” Times attorney David Axelrod said during closing arguments for the libel case on Friday. “That’s all this was, is an honest mistake.”
Palin attorney Ken Turkel said the Times showed contempt for figures on the right with its editorial.
“There’s common thread through all the pieces as to how they treat people on the right they don’t agree with,” Turkel said. “Look at the common thread: how in every single one of them they demonize the right wing or just treated them differently.”
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Zachary Evans is a news writer for National Review Online. He is also a violist, and has served in the Israeli Defense Forces.