Court Battles

NYT editorial writer testifies in trial over Palin defamation suit

Elizabeth Williamson, the author of the editorial at the center of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s (R) defamation lawsuit against The New York Times, testified Friday about how the piece was developed — and ultimately corrected, according to The Washington Post.

Palin sued the newspaper over June 14, 2017, editorial called “America’s Lethal Politics” that was published after a shooting at a GOP congressional baseball practice left Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) critically wounded. At issue are several lines that tied an ad from the former vice presidential nominee’s political action committee to the 2011 shooting of former Rep. Gabby Giffords (R-Ariz.).

The line read: “The link to political incitement was clear … Before the shooting, Sarah Palin’s political action committee circulated a map of targeted electoral districts that put Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized crosshairs.”

Within hours, the newspaper had issued two corrections: “An editorial on Thursday about the shooting of Representative Steve Scalise incorrectly stated that a link existed between political rhetoric and the 2011 shooting of Representative Gabby Giffords. In fact, no such link was established. The editorial also incorrectly described a map distributed by a political action committee before that shooting. It depicted electoral districts, not individual Democratic lawmakers, beneath stylized cross hairs.” 

Palin’s lawyers called Williamson to testify and sought to portray her and the Times as being out to intentionally smear the former Alaska governor. The Times lawyers, in their questions, tried to paint her as a fair journalist.

Williamson testified that she had been going in a different direction with the editorial, until an email from former New York Times Opinion editor James Bennet pushed her in the direction she ultimately took, the Post reported. And once she’d turned the editorial in, Bennet rewrote much of it, she said, including inserting the erroneous connection between Palin’s ad and the shooting.

She laid out the conversations between herself and Bennet before and after the editorial’s publication, and acknowledged that while she read the final piece she didn’t do so thoroughly, the Post reported. 

“In retrospect I wish I had because maybe we could have caught something before,” she said, according to The Washington Post.

She also said Bennet was “was obviously pretty crestfallen” about the error.

Bennet is expected to testify later in the trial, according to the Post.


Tags libel libel lawsuit New York Times Sarah Palin Steve Scalise

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