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Judge Leans on Precedent in Libel Case

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by Jack Miller

Sarah Palin recently appeared in court in Manhattan for a hearing following Palin’s lawsuit against the New York Times for libeling her in an editorial. Palin argued that the Times published an editorial with the intent of damaging her reputation. The article in question was America’s Lethal Politics published in 2017, an article which reported on a shooting of various members of Congress during a baseball game in Washington D.C. The article references Palin’s political action committee who, in an advertisement, displayed a map showing various targeted electoral districts with gun sites over the districts of interest to the committee.

The article did not directly correlate the actions of the gunman, James Hodgkinson, with Palin’s committee’s electoral district map. Rather used this image as an example of proliferation with guns and gun-related imagery within the American political sphere, which in turn may contribute to the rise of shootings. Within the day of the publication, the Times edited the language of the initial publication ensuring that there was no correlation between the shooting and Palin’s committee, but the damage had already been done. Nevertheless, former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin perceived this as an attack on her character and listed a lawsuit. 

Five years following the initial lawsuit,jury  members met in court on Tuesday, February 15 to decide the outcome of the case. Judge Jed Rakoff said he would dismiss the suit against the Times, claiming that there was not any significant damages to Palin’s character from the article – following a judicial precedent set in 1964. Nevertheless, Judge Rakoff allowed the jury to deliberate who eventually found that the case did not constitute libeling against Palin. 

The New York Times responded by accepting the verdict and called the decision “a reaffirmation of a fundamental tenet of American law; public figures should not be permitted to use libel suits to punish or intimidate news organizations that make, acknowledge and swiftly correct unintentional errors”, further strengthening the precedent against political libel.