Sarah Palin v. the NYT
Poynter's Tom Jones reported this week that most legal experts agree that Palin’s chances of winning the case are pretty low in what could be a landmark case, though not entirely out of the question.
Sarah Palin. (Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX/IPx)
Jones wrote that an intriguing defamation case gets underway Monday: former Alaska governor and Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin v. The New York Times. Palin sued the Times in 2017 over an editorial that wrongly linked the 2011 shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords to a map circulated by Palin’s PAC that showed certain electoral districts under the crosshairs.
Even though the Times corrected their error and issued and apology, the case has now landed on federal courts. At the heart of this matter, according to Jone’s excellent article, is the landmark 1964 case of The New York Times v. Sullivan. That decision ruled that not only must public officials prove defamation, but that the news outlet did it with “actual malice.”
In an Op-ed for the Washington Post, media critic Eric Wemple opines that from the start, the Palin case has been a square-off over the most fundamental of media protections — namely, the “actual malice” standard.
Fans of Sally Field and Paul Newman, as well as probably every media scholar or journalist worth their salt probably already knows the specific behind the standard, So that’s what Palin must prove: that the Times not only defamed her, but they knew what they wrote was false or that they recklessly disregarded whether the claims were true or not. The Times’ defense was that it was an honest mistake and that they immediately fixed it writes Jones.
“At issue is the elasticity of the protections that allow news organizations to present tough coverage of public figures,” Wemple noted.
Jones made this valid point: it will be curious to see how conservative outlets, such as Fox News, treat the case. On one hand, you have Palin, a favorite of conservatives, in a legal battle against the so-called “liberal” New York Times. But would Fox News and its prime-time pundits really want to see public officials have an easier time suing (and winning) lawsuits for defamation? Remember that right now, Fox News is being sued by voting technology companies Dominion and Smartmatic.
Jones then attributes a CNN article in which chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin told CNN’s Oliver Darcy, “Fox needs those protections more than The New York Times at the moment. The New York Times made a single mistake and behaved responsibly. Fox was the gateway for a torrent of lies that nearly destroyed these companies and has never appropriately apologized.”