Palin’s Defamation Case Against New York Times Heading to Jury Trial

August 31, 2020 Updated: September 1, 2020

A jury will consider whether The New York Times defamed former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in an editorial that claimed there was a “clear” link between a map and a mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona.

U.S. District Court Judge Jed Rakoff ruled on Aug. 28 that there was sufficient evidence to allow “a rational finder of fact” to find actual malice by James Bennet, who helmed the paper’s op-ed section in 2017, when the editorial was written.

Rakoff, a Bill Clinton-appointee, in a 36-page ruling denied motions from Palin and the paper that sought to end the case without a trial and ordered a trial to commence, pandemic permitting, on Feb. 1, 2021.

At issue is an op-ed written by NY Times editorial board member Elizabeth Williamson and substantially edited by Bennet.

The editorial claimed there was a “clear” link to political incitement in the mass shooting perpetrated by Jared Lee Loughner in a parking lot in Tuscon that killed six and left then-Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.) wounded. It then said that Palin’s political action committee circulated a map of electoral districts that included crosshairs.

A lengthy correction issued two days later admitted the op-ed “incorrectly stated that a link existed between political rhetoric and the 2011 shooting.”

“In fact, no such link was established,” The New York Times stated.

Epoch Times Photo
James Bennet, editorial page editor of The New York Times, in New York on Aug. 16, 2017. (Larry Neumeister/AP Photo)

According to Rakoff, a deposition from Williamson may undermine the claim from the paper’s representatives that Bennet did not know there was no clear link between the map from Palin’s group and the shooting.

“At the summary judgment phase, the Court finds that Williamson’s deposition testimony could allow a juror to conclude that, at some point during the drafting process, Bennet specifically instructed Williamson to research whether there existed a link between the Map and the shooting and learned that there was no material support for such a link,” the judge wrote.

Further, an article linked in the original version stated there was no such connection, making it possible that Bennet, who resigned in July, failed to investigate and possibly avoided the truth on purpose.

“To be sure, Bennet maintains that he never clicked on the hyperlink,” Rakoff wrote. “But under all the circumstances, a jury might discredit this testimony. Nonetheless, even if it were true, it could be evidence of reckless disregard.”

Danielle Rhoades Ha, a New York Times spokesperson, told The Epoch Times via email, “We’re disappointed in the ruling but are confident we will prevail at trial when a jury hears the facts.”

In a statement to news outlets, Palin’s lawyers Shane Vogt and Ken Turkel said: “Governor Palin appreciates the Court’s ruling and careful consideration of the merits of this case. We look forward to the trial in February.”

Palin wrote in a separate statement that she is “humbled and thankful” by the ruling.

Her lawyers won perhaps the most famous case against a media outlet in the modern era.

Terry Bollea, known as Hulk Hogan, was awarded $140 million in 2016 after suing Gawker Media for publishing a video recorded without his knowledge or consent.

Correction: A previous version of this article wrongly described the position of the defendants. The Epoch Times regrets the error.

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber