Sarah Palin’s bid for new defamation lawsuit against The Times is denied
Sarah Palin lost her bid for a new trial in her defamation case against The New York Times on Tuesday after a judge ruled she failed to present “even a speck” of evidence needed to prove that the newspaper defamed her in a 2017 editorial.
U.S. District Court Judge Jed S. Rakoff’s written ruling said that while mistakes were made as publishers raced to meet deadlines, “one mistake is not enough to win if it was not motivated by genuine malice”.
Actual malice is the legal bar set by the Supreme Court that a public figure like Ms Palin must prove to win a defamation case. This would mean that the Times either knew it was publishing false information or that it was recklessly ignoring evidence despite having doubts about the veracity of what it was publishing.
“What is striking about the trial here is that Palin, despite all her prior assertions, was ultimately unable to introduce even a speck of such evidence,” Judge Rakoff wrote. “Palin’s motion is hereby denied in its entirety.”
Lawyers for Ms. Palin did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“We are pleased to see the court’s decision and remain confident that the judge and jury decided the case fairly and correctly,” Times spokesman Charlie Stadtlander said.
The libel suit brought by Ms Palin, a former Republican vice-presidential candidate and governor of Alaska, focused on an op-ed that wrongly linked her campaign rhetoric to a 2011 mass shooting in Arizona. The Times corrected the editorial the day after it was published.
Ms Palin claimed the editorial damaged her reputation and career. Lawyers for The Times said it was an “honest mistake” and there was never any intent to harm Ms Palin.
The lawsuit came at a time when people who believe journalists should be held accountable for doing something wrong have been pushing for the Supreme Court to reconsider the issue. The current standard of defamation was established by the 1964 case The New York Times Company v. Sullivan.
The end of the trial was not without drama. As jury deliberations were underway on February 14, Judge Rakoff announced that he intended to dismiss the lawsuit – even though the jury had ruled in favor of Ms Palin – because she had not demonstrated that the Times had acted out of actual malice. The following day, the jury dismissed Ms Palin’s suit.
It was later revealed that several jurors learned of Judge Rakoff’s ruling while they were still deliberating, thanks to push notifications on their cellphones. But in a later order, Judge Rakoff said several jurors told the court clerk that the notifications “did not affect them in any way or play any role in their deliberations.”
Lawyers for Ms Palin cited the timing of Judge Rakoff’s announcement as one of the reasons why a new trial should take place. Ms. Palin can appeal, but appellate courts tend to show deference to jury decisions.
In April, Ms Palin announced she would run for Congress in Alaska, as part of a return to national politics. She will join a group of nearly 40 candidates to fill the House seat vacated by Rep. Don Young, who died in March.