Court Battles

What to know ahead of a verdict in Palin vs NYT case

More than four years after former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) sued The New York Times over an editorial linking her to a deadly 2011 shooting in an Arizona parking lot, she finally took the stand in a trial last week. 

James Bennet, then the editorial page editor at the Times, has denied the newspaper intentionally tried to blame Palin for the shooting in the since-corrected article, and the Times also also argued that it did not harm her reputation. 

Palin and her legal team must now persuade jurors that the Times and Bennet’s actions were made with “actual malice,” a high bar for defamation cases against public figures. 

The jury of nine people began deliberations on Friday in the case and are expected to resume their work on Monday morning.

Here’s what you need to know ahead of the verdict. 

The article

At the center of the trial is an editorial, titled “America’s Lethal Politics,” that drew a link between Palin’s political action committee and the 2011 shooting that wounded several people, including Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.), and killed six. 

The piece stated that the shooting took place after Palin’s PAC shared a map placing 20 Democratic lawmakers including Giffords in “stylized cross hairs.” It was published on the same day as a shooting at a baseball field where Republican lawmakers were practicing. 

The editorial was later corrected to say that the opinion piece “incorrectly stated that a link existed between political rhetoric and the 2011 shooting.” 

Palin’s testimony 

The former governor and 2008 Republican U.S. vice presidential candidate has previously been an outspoken critic of what she has called “lame stream” media. 

In her testimony during the trial, she described herself as feeling “powerless” as a result of the editorial, according to Reuters.

“It was devastating to read, again, an accusation, a false accusation that I had anything to do with murder, murdering innocent people,” Palin said. “And I felt powerless.”

“It’s hard to lay your head on a pillow and have a restful night when you know that lies are told about you, a specific lie that was not going to be fixed,” she added, arguing that the paper was “trying to score political points” as the “the be-all, end-all, the loud voice in American media.”

Bennet’s testimony:

Bennet, who was the former editor-in-chief of The Atlantic before becoming the opinion page editor at the Times, resigned from the newspaper in June 2020 following the publication of a highly criticized op-ed piece by Sen. Tom Cotton, calling for a military response to civil unrest taking place in the U.S. at the time.

The piece at the center of the Palin trial was originally drafted by Elizabeth Williamson before Bennet added the part that stated “the link to political incitement was clear.”  

Bennet was also asked why the Times never formally apologized to Palin, to which he explained that the paper has a policy of “not apologizing for corrections.”

“The feeling of the standards editors, I think, was that of course The Times regrets its errors,” Bennet said, according to NPR. “They’re correcting them. That’s an extremely painful thing for the journalists and is an expression of regret.”

Closing Arguments: 

In closing arguments on Friday, David Axelrod, a lawyer for the Times, argued that the newspaper made a mistake but did not intentionally harm Palin’s reputation, according to The Associated Press

Axelrod asserted that the First Amendment protects journalists ​​“who make an honest mistake when they write about a person like Sarah Palin … That’s all this was about — an honest mistake.”

Meanwhile, Palin’s attorney, Kenneth Turkel, said the newspaper’s lack of apology was “indicative of an arrogance and sense of power that’s uncontrolled,” the AP reported.

“What this dispute is about in its simplest form is power, and lack of power,” Turkel said, claiming this was an example of how the Times “treated people on the right they don’t agree with. … They don’t care. She’s just one of ‘them.’”

Tags David Axelrod Tom Cotton

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