Showdown: Sarah Palin vs the New York Times

This should be interesting. The New York Post is reporting that Sarah Palin has filed a defamation lawsuit against their chief competitor, the New York Times, over their ill-conceived and repeatedly “edited” article which seemed to place at least part of the blame for the baseball practice shooting on Palin’s “political rhetoric” from 2011. Yes, folks. The fur is about to fly.

Former Governor of Alaska and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is suing the New York Times for defamation over a recent editorial tying one of her political action committee ads to a 2011 mass shooting that severely wounded Arizona Democrat Gabby Giffords and killed six people, including a 9-year-old girl​, The Post has learned​.

The Manhattan federal court lawsuit, filed Tuesday by lawyers Kenneth Turkel, Shane Vogt and S. Preston Ricardo, accuse​s​ the Gray Lady of having “violated the law and its own policies” when it accused her — in a “fabricated story” — of inciting the 2011 attack by Jared Lee Loughner.

Palin, who emerged on ​​the national political scene as running mate to John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, is seeking damages in an amount to be determined by a jury at trial.

For their part, the Gray Lady is saying that they “haven’t reviewed the claim yet” but will defend themselves vigorously. That process clearly begins with their own coverage of the lawsuit, in which they point out repeatedly that they have owned up to their “mistakes” and apologized. (New York Times)

The Times later issued a correction, saying that there was no established link between political statements and the shooting and that the map circulated by Ms. Palin’s PAC had depicted electoral districts, not individual Democratic lawmakers, beneath the stylized cross hairs. The NYT Opinion Twitter account also sent out the correction about the lack of a link, apologizing and saying that it appreciated that readers had pointed out the mistake.

Yet again, that’s a statement which is sort of, kind of true, but doesn’t really tell the whole story. Yes, they made corrections (plural, which I’ll get to in a moment) and they did issue an apology, but it was never an apology for the obvious implication which essentially accused Palin of inciting murder. They simply apologized for “getting their facts wrong” about the map in question and only partially for the allegation of connections between the map and the shooter.

Normally it’s tough to sue a newspaper for defamation over something their board publishes in an editorial (which is an opinion piece by definition as opposed to a news item) but this case may be different. First of all, as already mentioned, it wasn’t a single error. It was multiple errors and multiple corrections. And even then, as John Sexton reported at the time, they may have torpedoed their own defense by sending out James Bennet, their editorial page editor, to insist that the errors didn’t undercut their underlying argument.

In a statement provided to CNN by a spokesperson, James Bennet, the Times’ editorial page editor, thanked CNN for calling the error to their attention. Of the larger issue with the editorial, he said, “While it’s always agonizing to get something wrong we appreciate it when our readers call us out like this. We made an error of fact in the editorial, and we’ve corrected it. But that error doesn’t undercut or weaken the argument of the piece.”

If the “error of fact” (which is Bennet’s term, not mine) does not “undercut or weaken the argument of the piece” then what would that tell a jury hearing the case? The primary argument they were putting forward was that the climate of rhetorical hate and violence could be plotted in a direct line to both the Giffords and Scalise shootings. And the example they chose to cite was Sarah Palin. When they made their second edit about the link between the map and the shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, all they said was that, “no such link was established.” That obviously leaves some wiggle room in the minds of the readers, as if to say, we couldn’t prove there was a link, but we couldn’t disprove it either.

In fact, as has been widely reported, Loughner had been fixated on and chasing after Giffords for years before Sarah Palin came on the scene and he made no mention of the map or anything else to do with Palin. That wasn’t made at all clear in the correction or the apology, such as it was. With all that in mind, what do you think? Palin just might have a case here.