A jury is currently still deliberating on a verdict in a defamation suit brought by former Alaska governor and 2008 vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin against The New York Times over a 2017 editorial that falsely linked her to a 2011 mass shooting.
Yet, even as the jury continues to deliberate, the federal judge in the case announced Monday that he had decided to dismiss the suit regardless of what the jury eventually determines, Fox News reported.
That is because, according to District Judge Jed Rakoff, Palin’s attorneys had failed to provide sufficient evidence to prove that The Times had acted with “actual malice” toward Palin — the rather high bar public figures must clear in defamation or libel lawsuits against media outlets.
The judge further sought to rationalize his premature dismissal by noting that the case would inevitably have been appealed no matter how it turned out and countenanced his decision to let the jury — supposedly unaware of his pending dismissal — reach a verdict on their own in order to better inform the appellate courts of how the case might have been settled absent the preemptive dismissal.
Paper falsely claimed Palin political ad incited deadly mass shooting
At the heart of the lawsuit is how The New York Times had asserted as fact in the 2017 editorial that a 2010 ad from Palin’s political action committee had directly led to the 2011 shooting in Arizona that left then-Rep. Gabbie Giffords (D-AZ) grievously injured, according to the Washington Examiner.
More to the point, The Times had asserted that the ad, which placed stylized crosshairs on 20 different Democrat-held districts targeted to be flipped, had directly incited the mass shooting.
Except, there was never any evidence whatsoever to support such an inflammatory claim, and The Times corrected the article to remove that baseless assertion just two days later.
The damage had already been done, though, in Palin’s view, and she ultimately decided to file the admittedly longshot defamation lawsuit against the dishonest and biased newspaper.
Case will undoubtedly be appealed, perhaps to Supreme Court
According to Axios, Palin’s attorneys had argued that The New York Times had indeed acted with “actual malice” toward Palin and exhibited a “reckless disregard” for the truth, in that it knew that there was no real linkage between Palin’s ad and the subsequent shooting but published the claim nonetheless.
Lawyers for The Times, however, countered that it had all been just an “honest mistake” that was rapidly corrected once realized, an argument the judge appeared to agree with in his decision to dismiss prior to the jury reaching a verdict.
One thing that Judge Rakoff was likely correct about was the inevitability of the case being appealed no matter which way the ruling went, as Business Insider reported last week that Palin had expressed a determination and willingness to take her suit all the way to the Supreme Court on appeal, if necessary.
Should that actually happen, it would provide the nation’s highest court with an opportunity to revisit and perhaps even overturn the precedent-setting New York Times v. Sullivan case from 1964 that set the extraordinarily high standard for public figures to clear in seeking redress from maliciously dishonest media smears — like blaming Palin’s common political ad for an unrelated mass shooting.