On a day when a Republican congressman is fighting for his life, shot by a deranged leftist, the only way these cretins could process the villain/victim narrative switcheroo was to claim that the right started it.
This is a smear, debunked years ago, and known as such even to devout liberals like Chris Hayes and Jonathan Chait. If I were Sarah Palin (or, more accurately, the head of her Super PAC), I would sue for defamation. I’m not kidding.
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.
Conservatives and right-wing media were quick on Wednesday to demand forceful condemnation of hate speech and crimes by anti-Trump liberals. They’re right. Though there’s no sign of incitement as direct as in the Giffords attack, liberals should of course hold themselves to the same standard of decency that they ask of the right.
There is and never was any evidence that Loughner was inspired by the “crosshairs” map put out by Sarah PAC. Random liberals seized on the map after the shooting to try to connect the attack on Giffords to Republican rhetoric. The “climate of hate” among tea partiers had supposedly finally driven a fragile mind to try to murder a Democrat. In reality, Loughner was an unbalanced crank whose obsession with Giffords seems to have begun in 2007, a year before Palin became a national figure and several years before the tea party became a political force. The catalyst was Giffords answering a nonsensical question posed to her by Loughner at a townhall event in a way he didn’t like. There are endless posts in our archives from 2011 about the left’s febrile and futile attempt in the aftermath of the shooting to link Loughner to the mainstream right. It never went anywhere, despite their determined efforts — but the smear survives to this day. Even among the editors of the New York Times.
Under American defamation law, there are very limited circumstances in which a “public figure” can prevail over someone who smears them. For a “private figure,” i.e. the average nobody, it’s easier: All you need to show is that the defendant was negligent in printing a falsehood about you. A “public figure,” however, needs to prove “actual malice” — that the falsehood was published knowing that it was false or with reckless disregard to its truth or falsity. If the excerpt above isn’t an example of “actual malice,” what is? Loughner’s non-political motivations have been a matter of public record since Obama’s first term. Palin has no connection to the case whatsoever except the phantom one invented by liberals in the name of scoring political points on Republicans. Yet the editorial goes so far as to claim that political incitement was more of a factor in the Giffords shooting than it was yesterday, despite all available evidence that James Hodgkinson was a committed leftist who sought out Republicans to attack. Reckless disregard for truth or falsity: It’s right there in black and white. That’s “actual malice” under the law. And very likely “actual malice” in fact, given the editorial board’s politics.
The wrinkle here is damages. It would be hard for Palin to show she’s lost any income because of the Times’ defamation, although maybe not so hard to show that she lost media opportunities from the barrage of “climate of hate” smears aimed at her by various liberals after the Giffords shooting in 2011. The point of the suit wouldn’t be to recover money, though; she could ask for a dollar in damages if need be. The point would be to force the Times to retract and acknowledge publicly, to its embarrassment, that this deathless left-wing canard that Loughner was some sort of Bircher hunting Democrats is a smear, out and out. Sue on principle, not for an award. Although under the circumstances, maybe punitive damages aren’t out of the question.
By the way, if you’re thinking of complaining to the Times’s public editor (i.e. ombudsman) about this, don’t bother. They just abolished that position.
Update: Palin weighs in.
With this sickening NYT’s editorial, the media is doing exactly what I said yesterday should not be done. Despite commenting as graciously as I could on media coverage of yesterday’s shooting, alas, today a perversely biased media’s knee-jerk blame game is attempting to destroy innocent people with lies and more fake news. As I said yesterday, I’d hoped the media had collectively matured since the last attack on a Representative when media coverage spewed blatant lies about who was to blame. There’s been no improvement. The NYT has gotten worse. – SP
Update: A wise move. The Times has amended its editorial:
Correction: June 15, 2017
An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly stated that a link existed between political incitement and the 2011 shooting of Representative Gabby Giffords. In fact, no such link was established.
It’s not a complete retraction, though. They insisted on leaving the reference to Sarah PAC’s “crosshairs map” in the revised editorial, just without the claim of causation:
Was this attack evidence of how vicious American politics has become? Probably. In 2011, 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. At the time, we and others were sharply critical of the heated political rhetoric on the right. 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. But in that case no connection to the shooting was ever established.
That’s true, they did criticize the right’s rhetoric after the shooting. But the right’s rhetoric had nothing to do with Loughner’s motives. So why insist on mentioning it here?
Update: Here we go!
— Sarah Palin (@SarahPalinUSA) June 15, 2017