In a ruling Monday afternoon, Judge Jed Rakoff ruled in favor of the New York Times in Palin v. New York Times, a defamation suit brought against the Times by former Alaskan Governor and one-time Vice-Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin. His ground for the ruling was that the Palin team had failed to prove the Times had “actual malice,” in their alleged defamation of her, a necessary component of a case probing libel against a public figure. Although Judge Rakoff was “not altogether happy with having to make this decision in favor of the defendants,” still, “The law here sets a very high standard [for actual malice.] The court finds that that standard has not been met.”
The case was brought by Palin in 2017, in response to a New York Times editorial condemning the attempted assassination of several House Republicans, which falsely linked Palin to another politically motivated mass shooting back in 2011. Palin had sent out a mailer with 20 Democratic congressional seats the Republican Party intended to target, each in the sight of crosshairs, to indicate the idea of targeting. Later, one of the members on the list suffered serious brain damage due to an assassination attempt. Initially, many reports in the media blamed Palin’s “provocative” mailer, though evidence later demonstrated that the shooter had no connection to the mailer.
In their 2017 op-ed, however, the Times stated that “the link to political incitement was clear” between the mailer and the shooter, even though this was publicly known to be false. The Times later added a note, saying the article had “incorrectly stated that a link existed between political rhetoric and the 2011 shooting.”
Judge Rakoff announced that, regardless of what the jury finds, he plans to dismiss the case after their deliberations are complete. Since, for her to win, Palin needs to show that the Times acted with “actual malice,” that is, that they wrote, “with the knowledge that [their claim] was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.” So, while this was, in the words of the judge “an example of very unfortunate editorializing on the part of the Times,” they did not say anything they knew was false, nor did they act with reckless disregard for the truth.
However, this fight against the defamation of conservatives in the media is by no means over. In the words of Judge Rakoff, “This is the kind of case that inevitably goes up on appeal.”