Issued on: 14/02/2022 – 23:32
Sarah Palin, 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate and former Alaska governor, arrives for her defamation lawsuit against the NYT, at the US Courthouse in the Manhattan, New York City February 14, 2022. © Eduardo Munoz, Reuters
A US judge said Monday he would dismiss a libel lawsuit brought by former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin against the New York Times, ruling she had failed to prove her case, US media reported.
The announcement came while the New York jury was still considering its verdict.
Palin, the 58-year-old former Alaska governor and one-time darling of the conservative Tea Party movement, had claimed the paper intentionally harmed her reputation with a 2017 editorial that suggested her campaign rhetoric had helped incite a mass shooting.
Legal experts said a ruling in her favor would have had huge implications for journalistic freedom of expression in the United States.
District Judge Jed Rakoff said he would toss out the case, agreeing with a motion filed by the Times last week that argued that Palin’s lawyers had not proved the Times had acted with malice.
The New York Times reported that Rakoff said he would let the jury reach its verdict before issuing the dismissal in case of an appeal.
He said that an appeals court “would greatly benefit from knowing how the jury would decide” the case, the Times reported.
Palin’s lawsuit, in which she sought unspecified damages, had been viewed as test case for the First Amendment, which protects freedom of the press.
The editorial linked a 2011 shooting in Arizona that wounded lawmaker Gabrielle Giffords and killed six others with an ad run by Palin’s political action committee.
The ad, which ran shortly before the attack, showed Gifford’s congressional district in the crosshairs of a firearm.
The Times corrected the editorial the next day, saying there was nothing that could demonstrate that the perpetrator had been driven to act by that controversial ad.
Palin, John McCain’s 2008 presidential Republican running mate, told the civil trial in Manhattan last week that the article had left her “powerless.”
Lawyers for the Times argued that the paper did not intend to cause malice, claiming it was an “honest mistake.”
The bar to prove defamation in the United States is high, due to a famous 1964 Supreme Court ruling known as the New York Times v. Sullivan.
A plaintiff needs to show that the defendant intended to cause harm. It is not sufficient to demonstrate that an error was made.
Dmitriy Shakhnevich, adjunct assistant professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said it was “virtually impossible,” for the plaintiff to win such a case.
“You would need some affirmative evidence showing that they knew that what they were writing was false. You’re never going to get that,” he told AFP.
Thomas Healy, an expert on the first amendment at Seton Hall Law School in New Jersey, said the judge was likely “preemptively protecting” the first amendment with his ruling in case the jury ruled the other way.
Asked why the judge didn’t toss out the case earlier, Healy said he likely wanted to hear the trial testimony first.