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- Sarah Palin filed a defamation suit against the New York Times on 27 June, accusing the company of knowingly publishing false information in an editorial released on 14 June that claimed Palin was responsible for inciting a 2011 mass shooting.
- The suit states:
“The Times Editorial Board, which represents the ‘voice’ of The Times, falsely stated as a matter of fact to millions of people that Mrs. Palin incited Jared Loughner’s January 8, 2011, shooting rampage at a political event in Tucson, Arizona, during which he shot nineteen people, severely wounding United States Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, and killing six…”
- Citing the 14 June shooting at the congressional baseball practice as part of this “pattern,” the Times’ editorial claimed that the 2011 Loughner shooting was part of a “sickening pattern” of “politically motivated violence against members of Congress,”
- The suit asserts that the editorial used Palin as “an artifice to exploit” the 14 June shooting by drawing a connection between Palin and the shootings.
The editorial before the corrections
- The editorial originally stated the following:
“Was this attack evidence of how vicious American politics has become? Probably. In 2011, when Jared Lee Loughner opened fire in a supermarket parking lot, grievously wounding Representative Gabby Giffords and killing six people, including a 9-year-old girl, 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 cross hairs.
- On 15 June, the Times tweeted that the following correction had been added to the editorial:
— NYT Opinion (@nytopinion) June 15, 2017
- On 16 June, the Times modified the correction at the bottom of the editorial. The correction now states:
“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.”
The editorial after the corrections
- The updated article states the following:
“Was this attack evidence of how vicious American politics has become? Probably. In 2011, Jared Lee Loughner opened fire in a supermarket parking lot, grievously wounding Representative Gabby Giffords and killing six people, including a 9-year-old girl. At the time, we and others were sharply critical of the heated political rhetoric on the right. Before the shooting, Sarah Palin’s political action committee circulated a map that showed the targeted electoral districts of Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized cross hairs. But in that case no connection to the shooting was ever established.
Conservatives and right-wing media were quick on Wednesday to demand forceful condemnation of hate speech and crimes by anti-Trump liberals. They’re right. Liberals should of course be held to the same standard of decency that they ask of the right.”
- The suit addresses the Times’ correction from 15 June, saying:
“In a reflection of The Times’ utter lack of concern for the harm it had inflicted on Mrs. Palin, The Times’ Editorial Page tweeted ‘We’re sorry about this and we appreciate that our readers called us on the mistake;’ as if The Times had made a simple, ministerial error such as misspelling someone’s name or getting a date wrong[.]”
- The suit says that by leaving the article up and not issuing a “meaningful” apology to Palin, “The Times violated and blatantly ignored the standards of ethical journalism which it has adopted and expects others to abide by.”
- The suit states:
“Given that the entire premise of the [editorial] was the ‘disturbing pattern’ of politically incited violence emanating from a non-existent link between Mrs. Palin and Loughner’s 2011 crime, which The Times conceded did not exist, the entire Palin Article should have been retracted – not minimally and inadequately corrected – and The Times should have apologized to Mrs. Palin.”
- The suit seeks compensation for damages and injunctive relief, as well as a trial by jury.
- Sarah Palin was Governor of Alaska and the vice presidential candidate on Sen. John McCain’s (Arizona) 2008 presidential bid.
- On 8 January 2011, there was a mass shooting at a supermarket where Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (Arizona) was holding a meeting.
- Six people were killed, and 15 were injured.
- Giffords survived a gunshot to the head.
- After the shooting, there were, according to the lawsuit, “speculative and unsubstantiated rumors about a possible connection between [Palin] and Loughner’s crime because of a map posted online which depicted congressional districts that Republicans were targeting for victory in an upcoming election.”
- The map showed Giffords’ district in crosshairs as a Republican campaign target.
- In March 2010, Palin tweeted:
Don’t retreat, just reload! https://t.co/IXQ0CE7d2i
— Sarah Palin (@SarahPalinUSA) March 6, 2017
Commonsense Conservatives & lovers of America: “Don’t Retreat, Instead – RELOAD!” Pls see my Facebook page.
— Sarah Palin (@SarahPalinUSA) March 23, 2010
- The “don’t retreat, instead reload” phrase became a slogan, which Palin used multiple times in tweets and interviews.
- The suit alleges:
“It took Mrs.Palin years to overcome the detrimental impacts of the false speculation that she caused Loughner to commit murder. Unfortunately, members of the media perceive Mrs. Palin as a convenient target for attacks against conservative policies and a subject likely to spark readership interest.”
- Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute defines libel as “a method of defamation expressed by print, writing, pictures, signs, effigies, or any communication embodied in physical form that is injurious to a person’s reputation, exposes a person to public hatred, contempt or ridicule, or injures a person in his/her business or profession.”
- In New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, the Supreme Court ruled that a public official must prove there was “actual malice” — meaning “the statement was made with knowledge of its falsity or with reckless disregard of whether it was true or false.”
- George Khoury, a civil rights attorney and senior writer for Find Law, wrote:
“[For] a public figure, like Palin, it must be proven that the publication happened with “actual malice.” Although this clearly includes publishing a false statement with the intent to harm, it also includes publishing one with a reckless disregard for the truth of the statement…
So, Palin may have difficulty proving the false statement was ever even made. Typically, defamatory statements must be statements of fact rather than opinion.”
- In an editorial piece for The Washington Times, Cheryl Chummy wrote:
“The time to challenge leftist mudslinging masked as scholarly opinion and wrapped in a First Amendment bow has definitely arrived. Call it a strike for the right. Bluntly put, conservatives are sick and tired of being the punching bag for an aggressive press. Palin’s suit is likely a drop in the bucket of what may soon come.”
- In an opinion piece for the Washington Examiner, Mark Grabowski wrote:
“Sarah Palin probably won’t win her defamation lawsuit against the New York Times in a court of law. But she’s already won where it might matter to her more: the court of public opinion.”
- A spokesperson for the Times responded to the news of the suit, saying:
“We have not reviewed the claim yet but will defend against any claim vigorously.”
- In a Washington Examiner opinion piece, Tom Rogan claims this lawsuit lacks standing as Palin’s image has not been significantly damaged.
“Instead, I believe Palin sees this lawsuit as a way to regain lost relevance.”
- Theodore Boutrous, a constitutional law expert, told Reuters that Palin is unlikely to win the case because the First Amendment “protects newspapers and others in terms of speaking out and writing and expressing opinions on important and public issues and that’s what The New York Times was doing.”
Elizabeth Rhodes contributed to this report.