Saturday, September 2, 2017

Court dismisses Sarah Palin's defamation claim against the New York Times

Back in June, the New York Times published an editorial that stated, among other things that "In 2011, when Jared Lee Loughner opened fire in a supermarket parking lot, grievously wounding Representative Gabby Giffords and killing six people, including a 9-year-old girl, the link to political incitement was clear. Before the shooting, Sarah Palin's political action committee circulated a map of targeted electoral districts that put Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized cross hairs."   At some point later, the newspaper published several corrections related to the op-ed piece, and Palin sued for defamation.

In order to support the claim, Palin would have to show that the statements are false, and, more importantly, because she is a public figure, she would have to prove "actual malice" on the part of the defendant, which means she would have to show the defendant acted with knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard for the truth."  This is a very difficult standard to meet and last week the court decided she would be unable to do so and dismissed the claim.

As one comment on the decision put it, "[a]n examination of the run-up to the publication of the erroneous op-ed showed there was no actual malice in the New York Times' assertions -- just some really bad op-edmanship. The statements were provably false, which is key to defamation claims, but there also has to actual malice." 

You can read the judge's order here.   It provides a relatively short discussion of the basic elements of a defamation claim including the requirement that the statement be "of and concerning" the plaintiff, a mention of the group libel doctrine, a discussion of how to distinguish between fact (actionable) and opinion (not actionable), and the issue of actual malice.

For more on the story go to:  NPR, the ABA Journal online and TechDirt.