A federal district court judge dismissed Sarah Palin’s defamation lawsuit against The New York Times last week, claiming that there was no evidence that the paper acted out of malice when it (straight out, baldfaced) lied about her in a recent editorial. The editorial, which held Palin at least partially responsible for the 2011 shooting of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, was written in the aftermath of the Steve Scalise shooting when the Times and every other liberal media outlet was playing a sick game of “whataboutism” to draw attention away from themselves. No, no, it wasn’t OUR reckless coverage of this president that drove a whackjob to open fire on Republicans! Look, look, they did it too, remember?
Except, their example was untrue and libelous.
But apparently that wasn’t enough for Judge Jed Rakoff, who decided that it was more important to err on the side of caution when it comes to the possibility of infringing on the freedom of the press.
Now, we understand where Rakoff is coming from and we happen to agree that newspapers and other news outlets should be given great leeway in their reporting, especially as it pertains to public figures. It’s all too easy to fall into a trap where the media is paralyzed by frivolous lawsuit after frivolous lawsuit, brought by rich, powerful figures who simply don’t like what the press is saying about them.
In this specific instance, however, we think Judge Rakoff got it wrong. We’re not necessarily saying that Palin deserves a judgement in this case, but she at least deserves to have her case heard. For the judge to dismiss it so quickly strikes us as shortsighted, and it could easily give Palin grounds for an effective appeal.
Do we believe that the Times printed their libel with “actual malice” towards Palin? Well, it depends on your definition. We don’t necessarily believe that the NYT Editorial Board sad down, rubbed their hands together menacingly, and said, “Let’s finally nail this chick to the wall!” But to prove “actual malice,” the plaintiff need only prove that the paper acted in reckless disregard for the truth, and we think Palin has a case to make here. The New York Times is not the first news outlet to connect Palin to the Jared Lee Loughner case – it was all the rage back when the shooting happened. It was also decisively, publicly, and repeatedly proven untrue. It’s very hard to imagine that the editors of the nation’s leading newspaper were not aware of the mythical nature of their contention.
And for a paper to print such a lie without so much as a fact check…well, we’d call that pretty reckless.