Judge Jed Rakoff is handling the defamation lawsuit filed by Sarah Palin against the NY Times in June. Palin filed the lawsuit over an editorial which accused her of inciting the 2011 Tucson shooting. The NY Times, which later corrected the editorial to say no such link to Palin had been established, has asked Rakoff to dismiss the case. Today Rakoff issued an order to settle what he called the “close question” of whether or not the editorial showed actual malice as opposed to just embarrassing ignorance.
In a brief order, the judge wrote, “the Complaint alleges that the allegedly false statements of fact that are the subject of the Complaint were contradicted by information already set forth in prior news stories published by the Times.” He continues, “However, these prior stories arguably would only evidence actual malice if the person(s) who wrote the editorial were aware of them.”
In order to answer that question, the judge has ordered a hearing next week during which the author (or authors) of the editorial will testify about whether or not they knew about stories refuting their own editorial. Obviously, the authors are going to say they did not know, thereby showing there was no malice in what they wrote. Palin’s attorneys will have 45 minutes to cross-examine them on this point and demonstrate to the judge’s satisfaction that the claims of ignorance aren’t believable.
Let’s just step back and admire this situation for a moment. One or more editorial writers at the NY Times, the folks who speak with the paper’s voice of authority on every subject you can imagine, will plead with a judge to believe they did not know the basic facts of a story they were writing about, including facts reported in their own paper! The Times’ defense is: We so dumb.
I find this indescribably delicious, especially given that it was Paul Krugman who used his perch at the NY Times to lead this false charge against Palin back in 2011. There were certainly many who echoed him at the time, but Krugman was the most high profile voice making this claim after the shooting. In fact, if the editorial writers are asked to explain where they got the dumb idea that Palin had been definitively linked to the Tucson shooting, the most likely explanation will be that they got the idea from Paul Krugman. There’s a certain justice to having the paper that mainstreamed this lie face the music over it, albeit belatedly.
Will the judge believe that NY Times editorial writers are ignorant rubes who don’t read their own paper? I won’t guess at the outcome, but I will say that the author(s) certainly wrote as if the facts were crystal clear. In case you’ve forgotten here’s the claim the author(s) of the editorial made:
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.
Either the author of this piece was a malicious liar or he/she is too ill-informed to be writing editorials for a newspaper. Either way, it looks pretty bad for the NY Times and quite possibly for the future employment of the author(s). It also makes one wonder what other things the NY Times editorial board opines about without a complete familiarity with the facts.