Sarah Palin (wikipedia)
Lawyers for The New York Times came out swinging on July 7 in Sarah Palin’s defamation lawsuit against the paper over an editorial linking her to a mass shooting, arguing the former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate could not show The Times acted with actual malice.
Palin filed her suit against The Times last week, alleging that she was defamed by a June 14 editorial called “America’s Lethal Politics,” which she said ties her to the 2011 shooting in Tucson, Arizona, that resulted in six deaths and a gunshot wound to the head of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Arizona, who survived the attack.
At the first conference for Palin’s suit, David Schulz, a partner at Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz, told Southern District Judge Jed Rakoff that his firm could file a motion to dismiss Palin’s suit in one week. He also said there was no intent by The Times to put out misinformation.
“The complaint mentions very clearly that a mistake was made,” Schulz said, saying that The Times corrected the editorial in about 12 hours.
The Times retained Levine Sullivan for the case on the day before the conference, Schulz said. He appeared with associate Jeremy Kutner. Palin has retained Kenneth Turkel and Shane Vogt of the Tampa, Florida-based Bajo Cuva Cohen & Turkel, who were part of the legal team that represented Hulk Hogan in his successful invasion of privacy suit against Gawker, which resulted in the demise of the publication.
Rakoff asked Turkel if he thinks his client’s complaint is sufficient because the misinformation contained in The Times piece was a so “out of whack” that no one could have made that “mistake by accident.”
“Yes, judge, that’s one way to put it,” Turkel said. He declined to answer reporters’ questions following the conference.
Rakoff scheduled oral arguments for the motion to dismiss for July 31.
The Times’ editorial at question in the case was released the day that a gunman opened fire on practice session preceding a charity baseball game in Virginia featuring members of Congress and former and current congressional staffers.
U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, was seriously wounded during the incident. James Hodgkinson, the shooter, died in a gun battle with police.
The original version of the editorial linked the latest attack to Giffords’ shooting and to a map distributed by Palin’s political action committee prior to the Arizona shooting showing congressional districts under crosshairs.
The Times corrected the piece to state that there was no connection between the two shootings, then corrected it a second time to state that the map distributed before the Arizona shooting portrayed congressional districts under crosshairs, not Democratic lawmakers themselves.
Palin said The Times should have apologized and retracted the piece.
Public figures like Palin are required to show actual malice to bring libel suits against defendants like The Times—that The Times knowingly published false information or that it showed disregard for the truth.
Palin notes in her suit that The Times also ran a news article on June 14 about the shooting in Virginia stating that there was no connection between the shooting in Tucson and the map distributed by Palin’s committee.
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