Earlier this summer, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin sued the New York Times for defamation after an editorial published on the same day as the shooting of Congressman Steve Scalise mentioned politically connected violence, an old Palin PAC ad that showed Democrat districts under crosshairs and the 2011 mass shooting in Arizona that left six dead and seriously injured then-Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. After Palin complained, and the New York Times issued a correction — which was deemed insufficient — she sued. Unfortunately for Palin, a federal judge dismissed her case on Tuesday.
The crux of Palin’s case was that James Bennet, the Times‘ editorial page editor who wrote the offending column, had acted recklessly since it was impossible to prove that Giffords’ shooting was connected to Palin’s advertisement. Moreover, Palin’s attorneys argued that the newspaper had used her as clickbait. Judge Jed Rakoff did not disagree:
“Responsible journals will promptly correct their errors; others will not. But if political journalism is to achieve its constitutionally endorsed role of challenging the powerful, legal redress by a public figure must be limited to those cases where the public figure has a plausible factual basis for complaining that the mistake was made maliciously, that is, with knowledge it was false or with reckless disregard of its falsity. Here, plaintiff’s complaint, even when supplemented by facts developed at an evidentiary hearing convened by the Court, fails to make that showing.”
Rakoff continued. “Nowhere is political journalism so free, so robust, or perhaps so rowdy as in the United States,” he wrote. “In the exercise of that freedom, mistakes will be made, some of which will be hurtful to others.”