NEW YORK CITY—The New York Times claimed Friday that its fake news smear of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, when it linked her to the 2011 Tucson shooting in a June 14 editorial, was an “honest mistake”—as the paper defends itself from a defamation lawsuit filed by the 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee.
The lawsuit was filed after the Times’ editorial board accused Palin last month of inciting violence in 2010 when her PAC circulated a graphic depicting a map with crosshairs over congressional districts then held by Democrats that the GOP hoped to unseat in the 2010 midterm elections. One of those districts was held by Arizona Democrat Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot when a mentally ill gunman, Jared Loughner, opened fire at an Arizona gathering, wounding Giffords and killing six others.
No evidence has ever been presented that shows even the slightest connection between the map graphic Palin’s PAC circulated and the Giffords shooting, but it has still been trotted out as part of a blame game by left-wing groups and media outlets.
Was this attack evidence of how vicious American politics has become? Probably. In 2011, when Jared Lee Loughner opened fire in a supermarket parking lot, grievously wounding Representative Gabby Giffords and killing six people, including a 9-year-old girl, the link to political incitement was clear. Before the shooting, Sarah Palin’s political action committee circulated a map of targeted electoral districts that put Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized cross hairs.
The Times later made two corrections, noting that “so such link was established” between “political incitement and the 2011 shooting of Representative Gabby Giffords.” In a second correction, the Times acknowledged that: “The editorial also incorrectly described a map distributed by a political action committee before that shooting. It depicted electoral districts, not individual Democratic lawmakers, beneath stylized cross hairs.
However, the Times insisted in a statement to CNN that their errors did not “undercut or weaken the argument of the piece.”
On June 27, Palin filed a lawsuit claiming defamation. In their complaint, Palin’s lawyers argued that “despite recognizing that its statements about Mrs. Palin in the June 14, 2017 column ‘America’s Lethal Politics’ are not true, The Times repeatedly failed to meaningfully retract or correct its column and apologize to Mrs. Palin for publishing it. Rather, the Times issued a statement affirming that its ‘error doesn’t undercut or weaken the argument of the piece.’” The complaint then used the Times own news coverage to show that the paper knew there was no link between Giffords’ mentally ill shooter and Palin’s PAC graphic.
In a Manhattan court, Friday, a lawyer for the Times noted the statement was corrected within 13 hours of the editorial being published.
“There was an honest mistake in posting the editorial,” lawyer David Schultz told federal Judge Jed Rakoff, according to the New York Post.
However, Palin’s lawyers claimed that they knew all along the claim was false.
“It was literally acknowledged the same day in another story in their paper,” said Palin lawyer Kenneth Turkel.
The Times’ legal team was arguing that the case should be dismissed as the statement was made in error. The law states that a public figure must prove that the speaker was either maliciously claiming something that the speaker knew to be false or at least made the false claim with “reckless disregard for the truth.” The Times is claiming this was not the case with the June 14 editorial.
A hearing is now scheduled for July 31 on whether the case should be dismissed.
Two of Palin’s lawyers successfully represented Hulk Hogan in his $140 million invasion of privacy suit against Gawker, after Gawker published a sex tape featuring Hogan. The firm’s website notes that it is one of the biggest contested verdicts in Pinellas County history.
Adam Shaw is a Breitbart News politics reporter based in New York. Follow Adam on Twitter: @AdamShawNY