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Judge says he’ll dismiss Sarah Palin’s libel suit against New York Times

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(NEW YORK) -- A federal judge in New York said on Monday that he will dismiss former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s libel suit against the New York Times, but only after the jury now deliberating returns a verdict.

Deliberations in the case in U.S. District Court in Manhattan began late Friday and continued Monday.

Without the jury present in court, Judge Jed Rakoff told the attorneys in the trial that he has decided to dismiss the case because Palin had not met the high standard of showing that The Times had acted with actual malice when it published an erroneous editorial that erroneously linked Palin’s political action committee to a mass shooting.

In explaining his decision to dismiss the case, Rakoff said the inevitable appeal would benefit from knowing how the jury deliberations turned out.

Palin, 58, sued The Times in 2017, roughly nine years after she was tapped to be Sen. John McCain's GOP vice presidential nominee, claiming the newspaper deliberately ruined her burgeoning career as a political commentator and consultant by publishing an erroneous editorial that defamed her.

The editorial that prompted the lawsuit was published just days after a gunman opened fire on GOP politicians practicing for a congressional charity baseball game in a Washington, D.C., suburb, injuring six, including Republican Rep. Steve Scalise.

The Times' editorial board wrote on June 14, 2017, that prior to the 2011 Arizona mass shooting that killed six people and left then-Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords with a traumatic brain injury, Palin’s political action committee had fueled a violent atmosphere by circulating a map that put the electoral districts of Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized crosshairs.

Two days later, The Times published a correction saying the editorial had "incorrectly described" the map and "incorrectly stated that a link existed between political rhetoric and the 2011 shooting."

During the trial in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, Palin portrayed herself as the biblical David going up against the Philistine giant Goliath with just a slingshot. Palin, in her testimony, accused The Times of deliberately fabricating lies to sully her reputation.

"It was devastating to read a false accusation that I had anything to do with murder," Palin testified. "I felt powerless -- that I was up against Goliath. The people were David. I was David."

During the trial, which was delayed for several days due to Palin testing positive for COVID-19, The Times former editorial page editor, James Bennet, testified that while he was responsible for the erroneous information in the editorial, it was an honest mistake and that he meant no harm.

"I’ve regretted it pretty much every day since," testified Bennet, who resigned from his job in June 2020 over publishing a highly criticized op-ed by U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, advocating a military response to civic unrest in American cities.

The jury in Palin's case was instructed to decide whether Bennet acted with "actual malice" or with "reckless disregard for the truth" when he inserted the disputed information into the editorial.

In his closing argument, The Times lawyer David Axelrod told the jury the case was "incredibly important because it’s about freedom of the press."

Axelrod said 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," said Axelrod, adding that Palin's lawsuit made no claims that she was deprived of income because of the editorial.

 

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