Tuesday, August 29, 2017
In his opinion in Palin v. The New York Times, Senior United States District Judge Jed Rakoff dismissed Sarah Palin's complaint for defamation for failure to satisfy First Amendment requirements under New York Times v. Sullivan.
Sarah Palin's complaint was based on a New York Times editorial written after James Hodgkinson "opened fire on members of Congress" and others playing baseball in a field in Virginia in June. The editorial decried how "vicious" American politics had become. Importantly, it referenced a previous act of violence by Jared Lee Loughner, resulting in deaths and the injury of Congresswoman Gabriel Giffords. The editorial stated that "the link to political incitement was clear" and that before the Loughner shooting "Sarah Palin's political action committee circulated a map of targeted electoral districts that put Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized crosshairs." In the internet-published editorial, "circulated" was hyperlinked to a story which did not support that any link was established.
Judge Rakoff opined that on its face, the complaint was not sufficient to meet the plausibility standard for dismissal relevant to the First Amendment requirement of actual malice under New York Times v. Sullivan applicable to Palin, an "acknowledged public figure." But Judge Rakoff held an evidentiary hearing directed in part to determining actual malice of the editorial writer(s). The Judge found no actual malice, noting that research failures or mistakes do not rise to that level, that the hyperlink's lack of support for the proposition weighed against malice, and that the quick corrections by the newspaper also weighed against actual malice. Judge Rakoff rejected Palin's contention that the editor, James Bennet, was hostile noting that Bennet's "long association with liberal publications" and relation to a political figure opposed to Sarah Palin could not constitute actual malice. "If such political opposition counted as evidence of actual malice, the protections imposed by Sullivan and its progeny would swiftly became a nullity." Judge Rakoff rejected the argument that the New York Times' "collective knowledge and intent" was relevant, although the judge stated that even if it was, the malice standard was not met.
each and every item of alleged support for plaintiffs claim of actual malice consists either of gross supposition or of evidence so weak that, even together, these items cannot support the high degree of particularized proof that must be provided before plaintiff can be said to have adequately alleged clear and convincing evidence of actual malice.
We come back to the basics. What we have here is an editorial, written and rewritten rapidly in order to voice an opinion on an immediate event of importance, in which are included a few factual inaccuracies somewhat pertaining to Mrs. Palin they’re very rapidly corrected. Negligence this maybe; a defamation of a public figure it plainly is not.
The court dismissed the complaint with prejudice. It is uncertain whether Palin would appeal.