Judge re­jects Palin law­suit against New York Times

Miami Herald - - FRONT PAGE -

NEW YORK — A fed­eral judge has tossed out a defama­tion law­suit by Sarah Palin against The New York Times, say­ing the for­mer Alaska gov­er­nor failed to show the news­pa­per knew it was pub­lish­ing false state­ments in an edi­to­rial be­fore quickly cor­rect­ing them.

The writ­ten rul­ing Tuesday by Judge Jed Rakoff in Man­hat­tan said the law­suit seek­ing un­spec­i­fied dam­ages “fails on its face to ad­e­quately al­lege ac­tual mal­ice.”

The de­ci­sion came weeks af­ter the one­time Repub­li­can vice pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee sued over an edi­to­rial ti­tled “Amer­ica’s Lethal Pol­i­tics.” It was pub­lished in June af­ter a gun­man opened fire on Repub­li­can law­mak­ers in Vir­ginia, wound­ing U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise.

The Times’ edi­to­rial orig­i­nally ac­cused a Palin GOP po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee of dis­tribut­ing a map de­pict­ing Demo­cratic law­mak­ers be­neath crosshairs be­fore the 2011 shoot­ing of Demo­cratic U.S. Rep. Gabby Gif­fords in Arizona. The news­pa­per is­sued a correction not­ing the map showed elec­toral dis­tricts, not peo­ple, in crosshairs.

“What we have here is an edi­to­rial, writ­ten and rewrit­ten rapidly in or­der to voice an opin­ion on an im­me­di­ate event of im­por­tance, in which are in­cluded a few fac­tual in­ac­cu­ra­cies some­what per­tain­ing to Mrs. Palin that are very rapidly cor­rected. Neg­li­gence this may be; but defama­tion of a public fig­ure it plainly is not,” Rakoff said.

Rakoff, known for philo­soph­i­cal asides, wrote: “Nowhere is po­lit­i­cal jour­nal­ism so free, so ro­bust, or per­haps so rowdy as in the United States. In the ex­er­cise of that free­dom, mis­takes will be made, some of which will be hurt­ful to oth­ers.”

He said if po­lit­i­cal jour­nal­ism is to achieve its con­sti­tu­tion­ally en­dorsed role of chal­leng­ing the pow­er­ful, law­suits by public fig­ures must be lim­ited to when there is a “plau­si­ble fac­tual ba­sis for com­plain­ing that the mis­take was made ma­li­ciously.”

Lawyers for Palin did not im­me­di­ately com­ment.

In a state­ment, the Times said it was de­lighted with the rul­ing and re­gret­ted the er­rors it made in the edi­to­rial.

“Judge Rakoff’s opin­ion is an im­por­tant re­minder of the coun­try’s deep com­mit­ment to a free press and the im­por­tant role that jour­nal­ism plays in our democ­racy,” the news­pa­per said.

Rakoff had pre­vi­ously heard tes­ti­mony from James Ben­net, the Times’ edi­to­rial page ed­i­tor, say­ing he thought the edi­to­rial was ac­cu­rate when he ap­proved its pub­li­ca­tion.

The judge dis­missed an ar­gu­ment by Palin’s lawyers that the news­pa­per might have been try­ing to boost sales by at­tack­ing Palin.

“As to the al­leged ‘hos­til­ity,’ it goes with­out say­ing that the Times edi­to­rial board is not a fan of Mrs. Palin. But nei­ther the fact of that op­po­si­tion, nor the sup­po­si­tion that a sharp at­tack on a dis­fa­vored po­lit­i­cal fig­ure will in­crease a pub­li­ca­tion’s read­er­ship, has ever been enough to prove ac­tual mal­ice,” he wrote.

Rakoff added: “There is not a shred of fac­tual sup­port, ei­ther in the com­plaint or in the ev­i­den­tiary hear­ing, for the sup­po­si­tion that con­sid­er­a­tions of at­tract­ing read­er­ship ever en­tered Mr. Ben­net’s mind when he was draft­ing this par­tic­u­lar edi­to­rial.

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