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Former Alaska Gov. and 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is suing the New York Times for defamation.

Palin, New York Times legal drama could rewrite First Amendment protections

Feb 08, 2022


Twelve men and women are tasked with settling a spat between a former governor and one of the country’s most-read newspapers. The fallout could reshape how the story of this nation is told. Former Alaska Governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is suing The New York Times for defamation.

“What am I trying to accomplish,” she asked rhetorically while speaking with the press outside the courthouse on day one of the trial. “Justice,” she answered.

The case, now in its fourth day, stems from a 2017 op-ed published by the Times after a gunman opened fire on a congressional Republican baseball practice. The piece examined the potential link between politics and violence. It discussed the gunman’s volunteer work for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign and his virulent opposition to President Trump.

It also stated as fact that a clear link existed between an image shared by Palin’s political action committee and the 2011 shooting of Democratic Congresswoman Gabriel Giffords.

The Times ultimately issued a correction. But in her suit, Palin’s attorneys argue the paper “should be held accountable for publishing a statement about her that it knew to be false.”

“Ordinarily in a case involving defamation claims by a public figure, the media ought to feel very confident,” Doug Mirell, a lawyer specializing in the First Amendment, told the Associated Press, “because the standard… is an extraordinarily high bar.”

It will be up to the jury to determine if the Times acted with “actual malice.”

That’s the legal standard set by another case involving the paper back in 1964. In short, Palin’s lawyers must prove to the court the paper knew the statement was false or acted with reckless disregard for the truth.

Mirell described it as “a sort of psychological inquiry, into what did the Times know, and when did it know it? What should it have known? What sort of investigation did it pursue, or not pursue? And those will be very factually dependent questions that [the jury] will have to decide.”

Historically, defamation cases filed against news outlets by public figures rarely succeed. But even if Palin loses in Manhattan, the case could be appealed to the Supreme Court – and if it makes it that far, the justices could make major edits to the nation’s libel law.