Sarah Palin sues New York Times for libel over editorial claiming she incited Jared Loughner's mass shooting

 

Stand by for some of the most amazing document discovery and depositions ever, as Sarah Palin yesterday filed a complaint alleging that the New York Times libeled her in this editorial.  According to the complaint, the editorial:

... falsely stated as a matter of fact to millions of people that Mrs. Palin incited Jared Loughner's January 8, 2011 shooting rampage at a political event in Tucson, Arizona, during which he shot nineteen people, severely wounding US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, and killing six, including US District Court Chief Judge John Roll and a nine year old girl.

There doesn't seem to be any factual question that the Times was incorrect.  The Times posted online this correction:

An editorial on Thursday about the shooting of Representative Steve Scalise incorrectly stated that a link existed between political rhetoric and the 2011 shooting of Representative Gabby Giffords. In fact, no such link was established. The editorial also incorrectly described a map distributed by a political action committee before that shooting. It depicted electoral districts, not individual Democratic lawmakers, beneath stylized cross hairs.

Sarah Palin is not accepting this as adequate:

Palin's lawyers told Deadline that the NYT "repeatedly failed to meaningfully retract or correct its column and apologize to Mrs. Palin for publishing it."

"On November 13, 2016, The Times pledged to rededicate itself to reporting facts honestly and holding power to account," Palin's attorneys Preston Ricardo, Ken Tukel and Shane Vogt told Deadline this evening. "Despite recognizing that its statements about Mrs. Palin in the June 14, 2017 column 'America's Lethal Politics' are not true, The Times repeatedly failed to meaningfully retract or correct its column and apologize to Mrs. Palin for publishing it. Rather, The Times issued a statement affirming that its 'error doesn't undercut or weaken the argument of the piece.' "

"As set forth in her Complaint, Mrs. Palin seeks to hold The Times to its November 13, 2016, pledge, and to face both journalistic and financial accountability for the false statements that it published about Mrs. Palin," the attorneys said.

The Times promises a vigorous defense and is not commenting on the complaint:

In a statement, a spokeswoman for The Times said, "We have not reviewed the claim yet but will defend against any claim vigorously."

My guess is that as a public figure, Mrs. Palin will have a difficult time winning her case.  But that is not the point of the exercise.  In seeking to prove "actual malice," the standard for winning a libel case for a public figure, her lawyers likely are entitled to broad discovery rights, including depositions for the members of the editorial board and records of inter-office communications.  At least that is my layman's view of a process I have seen a few times in real life.  Discovery can be a real pain.  I've given a few depositions in my day, and I always enjoyed the combat with the other side's lawyers. 

Ironically, the legal provision that makes it difficult for public figures to win a libel case also opens up broad avenues of discovery for the Palin legal team in order to find evidence of "actual malice."  How about subpoenaing all internal communications at the Times that mention Sarah Palin?  How likely do you think it would be for people reviewing instant messages, text messages, emails, and other such records to turn up evidence of "actual malice" and even outright hatred for Sarah Palin amongst the Times tribe?

It would not surprise me if there were plenty of willing volunteers who would help the legal team pore through a large volume of subpoenaed records.

I can hardly wait for the editorial boarders to be asked how they knew the false information, and whether or not they had read their own paper's accounts of the shooting, which contradicted their editorial.  There are no good answers to these questions.  A skilled lawyer can press them hard, and you never know what will come out.

No doubt, the Times will seek to have the case dismissed.  If it doesn't find a sympathetic judge to do so, the discovery process could be a nightmare for the Gray Lady.  Often, depositions are videotaped, promising further potential embarrassment if the case goes to trial.  I wonder if there is enough money in the world to make the case go away, should the Palin legal team elicit some truly damaging information about the Times.  I don't think Sarah Palin is in it for the money, or at least for the money alone.

The New York Times has a lot more at stake than just some accounting entries.  The inner workings of its editorial process could be opened up for scrutiny, and based on their recent output, it won't be pretty.

 

Stand by for some of the most amazing document discovery and depositions ever, as Sarah Palin yesterday filed a complaint alleging that the New York Times libeled her in this editorial.  According to the complaint, the editorial:

... falsely stated as a matter of fact to millions of people that Mrs. Palin incited Jared Loughner's January 8, 2011 shooting rampage at a political event in Tucson, Arizona, during which he shot nineteen people, severely wounding US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, and killing six, including US District Court Chief Judge John Roll and a nine year old girl.

There doesn't seem to be any factual question that the Times was incorrect.  The Times posted online this correction:

An editorial on Thursday about the shooting of Representative Steve Scalise incorrectly stated that a link existed between political rhetoric and the 2011 shooting of Representative Gabby Giffords. In fact, no such link was established. The editorial also incorrectly described a map distributed by a political action committee before that shooting. It depicted electoral districts, not individual Democratic lawmakers, beneath stylized cross hairs.

Sarah Palin is not accepting this as adequate:

Palin's lawyers told Deadline that the NYT "repeatedly failed to meaningfully retract or correct its column and apologize to Mrs. Palin for publishing it."

"On November 13, 2016, The Times pledged to rededicate itself to reporting facts honestly and holding power to account," Palin's attorneys Preston Ricardo, Ken Tukel and Shane Vogt told Deadline this evening. "Despite recognizing that its statements about Mrs. Palin in the June 14, 2017 column 'America's Lethal Politics' are not true, The Times repeatedly failed to meaningfully retract or correct its column and apologize to Mrs. Palin for publishing it. Rather, The Times issued a statement affirming that its 'error doesn't undercut or weaken the argument of the piece.' "

"As set forth in her Complaint, Mrs. Palin seeks to hold The Times to its November 13, 2016, pledge, and to face both journalistic and financial accountability for the false statements that it published about Mrs. Palin," the attorneys said.

The Times promises a vigorous defense and is not commenting on the complaint:

In a statement, a spokeswoman for The Times said, "We have not reviewed the claim yet but will defend against any claim vigorously."

My guess is that as a public figure, Mrs. Palin will have a difficult time winning her case.  But that is not the point of the exercise.  In seeking to prove "actual malice," the standard for winning a libel case for a public figure, her lawyers likely are entitled to broad discovery rights, including depositions for the members of the editorial board and records of inter-office communications.  At least that is my layman's view of a process I have seen a few times in real life.  Discovery can be a real pain.  I've given a few depositions in my day, and I always enjoyed the combat with the other side's lawyers. 

Ironically, the legal provision that makes it difficult for public figures to win a libel case also opens up broad avenues of discovery for the Palin legal team in order to find evidence of "actual malice."  How about subpoenaing all internal communications at the Times that mention Sarah Palin?  How likely do you think it would be for people reviewing instant messages, text messages, emails, and other such records to turn up evidence of "actual malice" and even outright hatred for Sarah Palin amongst the Times tribe?

It would not surprise me if there were plenty of willing volunteers who would help the legal team pore through a large volume of subpoenaed records.

I can hardly wait for the editorial boarders to be asked how they knew the false information, and whether or not they had read their own paper's accounts of the shooting, which contradicted their editorial.  There are no good answers to these questions.  A skilled lawyer can press them hard, and you never know what will come out.

No doubt, the Times will seek to have the case dismissed.  If it doesn't find a sympathetic judge to do so, the discovery process could be a nightmare for the Gray Lady.  Often, depositions are videotaped, promising further potential embarrassment if the case goes to trial.  I wonder if there is enough money in the world to make the case go away, should the Palin legal team elicit some truly damaging information about the Times.  I don't think Sarah Palin is in it for the money, or at least for the money alone.

The New York Times has a lot more at stake than just some accounting entries.  The inner workings of its editorial process could be opened up for scrutiny, and based on their recent output, it won't be pretty.

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