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Palin Claims N.Y. Times Editor ‘Didn’t Care’ About Facts (1)

Feb. 3, 2022, 11:15 PM

Sarah Palin’s lawyer told the jury in her defamation case against the New York Times that the newspaper’s former opinion page editor “didn’t care” about the facts when he incorrectly linked her political rhetoric to a deadly shooting in a 2017 piece.

“He had his narrative and he stuck with it,” the lawyer, Shane Vogt, said of the editor, James Bennet, in his opening statement in the trial on Thursday.

Palin, 57, the former Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential candidate, is suing the Times and Bennet for suggesting she helped incite a 2011 shooting in Tucson, Arizona, in which six people were killed and 14 wounded, including then-U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords.

David Axelrod, a lawyer for the Times, pointed out in his opening statement that the newspaper issued a correction about 12 hours after the piece was first published.

‘False Narrative’

“The Times made a mistake and it acted as quickly as possible to correct that mistake,” Axelrod said.

But Vogt said it was noteworthy that the correction did not mention Palin. He said that was evidence of the same bias against her that drove Bennet to put the “false narrative” in the piece in the first place.

“The reason he didn’t check these facts is simple,” said Vogt. “He didn’t care.”

Vogt’s line of attack is aimed at convincing the jury that the Times either knew the piece was false or that it acted with reckless disregard for the truth. That’s the standard set for public figures by the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1964 decision in New York Times v. Sullivan, which has been a legal bulwark for media companies.

Read More: Palin Takes on N.Y. Times in Trial Targeting Press Protections

It’s a very high bar, and Vogt acknowledged that Palin faced an “uphill battle” in the trial in Manhattan federal court. But she may already be looking beyond the New York verdict to a Supreme Court that has moved to right in the decades since Sullivan.

Palin’s lawyers sought unsuccessfully to challenge the Sullivan standard at trial and said in court papers they may argue for it to be overturned if the case is later appealed. A number of conservative judges, including Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, have recently called for the court to reevaluate the press-friendly precedent.

Palin, who may testify next week, sat with her lawyers in the courthouse cafeteria during a lunch break Thursday. A few tables away, Michael Avenatti, the suspended lawyer who shot to fame as a fierce critic of former President Donald Trump but is now on trial for allegedly stealing from his former client, Stormy Daniels, was also eating lunch.

The piece at issue ran in June 2017 after a gunman opened fire in Alexandria, Virginia, on Republicans practicing for a Congressional baseball game. U.S. Representative Steve Scalise, the current House minority whip, was seriously wounded in the shooting.

Entitled “America’s Lethal Politics,” the piece originally said a map published by Palin’s political action committee, SarahPac, put cross-hairs on Giffords and other Democratic lawmakers. It actually depicted cross-hairs on their congressional districts. Investigators also determined that the Arizona gunman, who was mentally ill, had anger towards Giffords unrelated to the SarahPac map.

The case is Palin v. New York Times Co., 17-cv-04853, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

(Adds details of opening statements.)

To contact the reporter on this story:
Bob Van Voris in federal court in Manhattan at rvanvoris@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Katia Porzecanski at kporzecansk1@bloomberg.net

Anthony Lin, Peter Blumberg

© 2022 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.