Sarah Palin Defamation Trial Against New York Times Postponed

By Dave Paone
Dave Paone
Dave Paone
Dave Paone covers New York City.
January 24, 2022Updated: January 24, 2022

NEW YORK—Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, whose defamation trial against The New York Times was supposed to start in federal court this week, has tested positive for COVID-19, causing the trial to be postponed until Feb. 3.

Palin is unvaccinated and publicly stated in Arizona in December 2021 that “it will be over my dead body that I’ll have to get a shot.”

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff set a Feb. 3 start date for the trial if Palin has adequately recovered by then. Palin, 57, may return to court even if she tests positive, but has no symptoms. If she has symptoms, she may be examined by a court-retained doctor on Feb. 2.

In 2018, Palin brought a lawsuit against the NY Times after its editorial board published an editorial about her that she deemed defamatory. According to court papers, the genesis of the editorial dates back to Jan. 8, 2011, when Jared Loughner opened fire at a political rally for then-Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona, killing six people and injuring 13. Giffords was seriously wounded during the shooting.

Prior to the attack, Palin’s political action committee (SarahPAC) had circulated a map that superimposed the image of a crosshairs target over certain Democratic congressional districts, including Giffords’s district. In the wake of the Loughner shooting, some speculated that the shooting was connected to the crosshairs map.

No evidence ever emerged to establish that link. The criminal investigation of Loughner indicated that his animosity toward Giffords had begun before SarahPAC published the map.

On June 14, 2017, another political shooting occurred when James Hodgkinson opened fire in Alexandria, Virginia, at a practice for a congressional baseball game. He seriously injured four people, including Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.).

That same evening, the NY Times, under the editorial board’s byline, published the editorial “America’s Lethal Politics” in response to the shooting. The editorial essentially argued that the two shootings were Palin’s fault.

Due to immediate backlash, within a day, the newspaper had changed the content and issued a correction. Twelve days after the editorial was published, Palin sued the NY Times in federal court. She alleged one count of defamation under New York law.

The district judge ordered the NY Times to identify the author of the editorial, and it produced James Bennet, the editorial page editor. The case was dismissed but was revived with an appeal.

Palin was governor of Alaska from 2006 through 2009 and ran for vice president on the Republican ticket with then-Sen. John McCain in 2008. They lost to then-Democrat Sens. Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.