New York Times found not liable in Sarah Palin defamation case

New York Times found not liable in Sarah Palin defamation case

‘Outnumbered’ co-host Emily Compagno and ‘MediaBuzz’ host Howard Kurtz provide insight into the verdict on ‘America Reports.’

A jury has found the New York Times not liable of defaming Sarah Palin in a closely watched civil trial that touched on the First Amendment, press judgment, and bias issues.

Palin, who rose to fame as the 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate, claimed the New York Times defamed her by unfairly linking her in an editorial to the 2011 mass shooting that killed six people and wounded then-Rep. Gabby Giffords. 

Former editorial page editor James Bennet testified the piece – which was corrected the day after it was published – was his fault. He took responsibility for rushing out the editorial on June 14, 2017, and inserting the line falsely linking the massacre to “incitement” from Palin’s PAC and its use of crosshairs on Giffords’ district. The editorial was in response to the mass shooting by a left-wing fanatic targeting Republican congressmen that severely wounded Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La.

FILE- In this Feb. 26, 2015 file photo, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Md. Fox News Channel said Wednesday, June 24, 2015, that it was not renewing Palin’s contract as a contributor. The professional divorce, first reported in Politico, was described as amicable. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)
(AP)

The jury’s unanimous verdict aligned with U.S. District Court Judge Jed Rakoff, who had already dismissed the case while the jury was deliberating on Monday.

Rakoff said he would issue an order dismissing the complaint after the jury returned its verdict. The judge added that the case would inevitably be appealed and the court of appeals would benefit from knowing how the jury would decide it, which is why they would continue to deliberate. 

The jury was not made aware of the judge’s order until after it delivered its verdict on Tuesday.

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    Editorial board member Elizabeth Williamson arrives for the trial in Sarah Palin’s defamation lawsuit against the New York Times, at the United States Courthouse in the Manhattan borough of New York City, U.S., January 24, 2022. (REUTERS/Jeenah Moon)

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    Former editorial page editor James Bennet arrives for the trial in Sarah Palin’s defamation lawsuit against the New York Times, at the United States Courthouse in the Manhattan borough of New York City, U.S., January 24, 2022. (REUTERS/Jeenah Moon)

Rakoff told the jurors that he had concluded as a matter of the law “that the defendants are not liable too. You decided the facts, I decided the law.” 

Rakoff also praised the jurors for their work on the case, and after they left, he told the parties that he will be entering his ruling on dismissing the case Wednesday “on two independent grounds,” the jury’s findings and his judgment.

Palin’s attorney Ken Turkel said afterward that her team would evaluate all options, including a possible appeal. Palin did not speak to reporters.

The case marked the first libel suit against the Times to make it to trial in nearly two decades. The New York Times noted in its write-up of the verdict that it has not lost a libel case in at least 50 years.

The trial received extensive media attention, as it represented another test for the wide berth given by the Supreme Court for journalists when covering public figures. Palin had to prove the New York Times acted out of “malice” when it falsely linked her to the shooting of Giffords, a difficult legal bar to clear.

Nevertheless, observers across the aisle said the trial had damaged the Times’ reputation, as Bennet admitted he had made a serious error. 

“It has been a black eye for the Times, even though the Times has clearly won this round,” Fox News “MediaBuzz” host Howard Kurtz said on Tuesday.

Bennet was forced out of the newspaper in 2020 after the opinion section published an op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., arguing the military should be deployed to quell violent uprisings at the time. Bennet resigned following an internal uproar from the newspaper’s vocally liberal staffers.

Palin’s case against the Times was delayed from starting last month after she tested positive for coronavirus.

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