In a civil trial closely monitored by a jury, the New York Times was found not guilty of defaming Sarah Palin. The trial touched on bias issues, the First Amendment and press judgment.
Palin rose to fame in 2008 as the Republican vice-presidential candidate. In an editorial, the New York Times unfairly linked Palin to the mass shooting of 2011, which killed six people and injured then-Rep. Gabby Giffords.
James Bennet, former editorial page editor, testified that the piece was his fault. It was corrected the next day. He admitted that he had rushed to publish the editorial on June 14, 2017 and added the false link between the massacre and “incitement” from Palin’s PAC and its use crosshairs in Giffords’ district. This editorial was written in response to the attack on Republican congressmen by a left-wing fanatic. It severely injured Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La).
The unanimous verdict of the jury aligned with Judge Jed Rakoff from the U.S. District Court, who had already dismissed this case on Monday while the jury was still deliberating.
Rakoff stated that he would issue an injunction dismissing the complaint once the jury had returned its verdict. Rakoff stated that the case would undoubtedly be appealed. The court of appeals would also benefit from knowing the verdict of the jury, so they would continue to deliberate.
The judge’s order was not disclosed to the jury until Tuesday when it delivered its verdict.
Ken Turkel, Palin’s lawyer, said that afterward her team would examine all options including an appeal. Palin didn’t speak with reporters.
This was the first time in almost two decades that a libel case against the Times went to trial. The New York Times wrote in its verdict report that it had not lost a libel suit in at least 50 year.
This trial attracted a lot of media attention because it was another test for the broad berth granted by the Supreme Court to journalists covering public figures. Palin was required to prove that the New York Times falsely linked her with the Giffords shooting. This is a complex legal hurdle.
However, observers from both sides of the aisle felt that the trial had damaged Times’ reputation as Bennet admitted to a grave error.
Howard Kurtz, Fox News’ MediaBuzz host, stated that “it has been a dark eye for the Times even though the Times clearly won this round.”
After Sen. Tom Cotton’s opinion section published an opinion piece in which he argued that the military should be deployed to stop violent uprisings of the time, Bennet was forced from the newspaper. After a scuffle among the newspaper’s liberal staffers, Bennet decided to resign.
After she was diagnosed with coronavirus, Palin’s case against The Times was delayed.