Judge drops Palin’s libel lawsuit against the New York Times

Sarah Palin at CPAC 2012. (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr Creative Commons)

A federal judge has dismissed a libel lawsuit former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin brought against the New York Times, finding plenty wrong with an editorial that linked Palin’s PAC with a 2011 mass shotting but not enough to win in court.

“Negligence this may be; but defamation of a public figure it plainly is not,” federal Judge Jed Rakoff said in today’s opinion dismissing the case.

The original editorial by the Times strongly suggested a link between a map put together by a PAC run by Palin that targeted a number of congressional districts—including the district of U.S. Rep. Gabby Gifford—with the 2011 mass shooting that killed six and gravely injured Gifford. No evidence ever materialized that even came close to linking the two, and other reports suggest the shooter’s fixation on Giffords developed in 2007 well before Palin became a national figure.

Once the truth that there was no link between Palin’s PAC and the shooting the paper corrected the editorial and issued a correction, but Palin pushed ahead with a libel lawsuit that claimed those at the paper knew there was no connection and intended to harm Palin.

Typically it’s extraordinarily difficult to prove libel , but some outlets, including Erik Wemple of the Washington Post, suggested that Palin had a “convincing” shot with the lawsuit.

The judge, who even went to the length to have one of the editors of the editorial testify, ultimately found otherwise.

To prove a libel case against a public figure, the figure would have to be able to prove the outlet intentionally published false or defamatory information with the knowledge that it wasn’t true, or at least with reckless disregard for the truth.

The argument came down around whether or not the Times editorial board acted with malice. The judge repeatedly notes that Palin’s legal team brought no evidence of malice.

“Each and every item of alleged support for plaintiff’s 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,” he wrote.

Negligent? Sure. Obviously malicious? No.

As my undergraduate media law professor would remind me: Incompetence can be a defense against libel.

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