Sarah Palin Sues New York Times for Defamation in Opinion Piece

By George Khoury, Esq. on June 29, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Sarah Palin, the former vice presidential nominee and politician, filed a defamation lawsuit against the New York Times this week in federal court. The case is over an editorial article that was published on June of this year which allegedly asserted that Palin incited the 2011 shooting that left congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords severely injured.

The original piece has since been edited. However, allegedly, Palin's crosshair's map was linked to the 2011 shooting in the opinion piece. The article discussed the state of American politics after the shooting of Representative Steve Scalise, on June 14, 2017, at a charity softball game practice.

While the exact amount of money Palin is seeking is not mentioned in the suit, she claims that her damages are minimally $75,000.

Celebrity and Public Figure Defamation

Palin's defamation claim is not like an ordinary person's defamation claim. As a public figure, she is entitled to much less protection than an ordinary person. This is because the law recognizes that individuals in the public spotlight are "newsworthy" and therefore the rights of the free press established by the First Amendment require less protection from defamation for "newsworthy" people.

A non-public figure only has to prove that a false statement was published, and that they suffered damages as a result of the publication, to successfully bring a defamation claim. However, for a public figure, like Palin, it must be proven that the publication happened with "actual malice." Although this clearly includes publishing a false statement with the intent to harm, it also includes publishing one with a reckless disregard for the truth of the statement.

Is Palin Going to Win?

Whether Palin will succeed, at this point, is unknowable. The New York Times, historically, has a good track record defending these types of cases, and many facts fall in their favor.

Notably, this was an editorial, which traditionally are understood to be the opinions of the author rather than the entity. So, Palin may have difficulty proving the false statement was ever even made. Typically, defamatory statements must be statements of fact rather than opinion.

The allegedly defamatory text from the editorial is copied below from Ms. Palin's lawsuit:

Was this attack evidence of how vicious American politics has become? Probably. 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.

Conservatives and right-wing media were quick on Wednesday to demand forceful condemnation of hate speech and crimes by antiTrump liberals. They're right. Though there's no sign of incitement as direct as in the Giffords attack, liberals should of course hold themselves to the same standard of decency that they ask for of the right.

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