NEW YORK — The New York Times did not defame former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a jury concluded Tuesday.
The verdict is largely symbolic. Judge Jed Rakoff has already said Palin failed to prove her case and vowed to dismiss her lawsuit. Rakoff said Palin failed to prove the Times acted with “actual malice” when it inaccurately linked her to a 2011 mass shooting in an editorial. As a public figure, Palin faced a higher legal burden than the average citizen to prove defamation.
The jury verdict will factor in Palin’s expected appeal.
Free speech advocates warned the lawsuit has the potential to upend decades of legal precedent and restrict press freedom should it reach the Supreme Court.
The erroneous editorial was published in the wake of a mass shooting at a congressional baseball game in Alexandria, Virginia, in 2017 that left Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., seriously wounded. The editorial argued that heated political rhetoric could lead to real-world violence and cited the 2011 mass shooting by Jared Loughner that left six dead and former Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., badly injured.
In a sentence quoted throughout the trial, the editorial said “the link to political incitement was clear” in the Giffords attack. It inaccurately reported that a map graphic circulated by Palin’s PAC showed crosshairs over Giffords and other Democrats.
But the map actually featured targets over Democrats’ electoral districts, not the officials themselves. And there was no evidence Loughner had ever seen it.
The trial revolved around the behind the scenes editing process that resulted in the error. Evidence showed that the Times’ top editorial board editor at the time, James Bennet, inserted the mistake.
Rakoff said Bennet had engaged in “very unfortunate editorializing,” but that Palin had failed to prove he or his employer published it maliciously.