NY Times: Hey, blaming Sarah Palin for that shooting was "an honest mistake"

We learned last month that former Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin would be suing the New York Times for defamation after their June 14th editorial essentially blamed her for the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords. At the time, I expressed some reservations as to her chances of prevailing, given how difficult it is to sue a newspaper over anything for the most part. But at the same time I allowed that the “error” (which the Times later retracted) was so egregious that the suit might be worth pursuing. What would the newspaper’s defense be in the face of all this sound and fury?

We got a hint of their basic strategy this week when one of the Gray Lady’s attorneys showed up to ask for a dismissal. Their reason? Hey… mistakes happen, you know. (New York Post)

Sarah Palin’s defamation lawsuit against The New York Times should be tossed because the paper made “an honest mistake” when it said she incited a 2011 shooting that severely wounded Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords and killed six people, a lawyer for the Gray Lady said on Friday.

“There was an honest mistake in posting the editorial,” lawyer David Schultz told Manhattan federal Judge Jed Rakoff.

Last week, Palin sued the Times over a June 14th editorial that stated there was a “direct” link between one of Palin’s PAC ads and the shooting by Jared Lee Loughner.

One can’t blame Schultz for trying, but the Post reports that Palin’s team was having none of it. One of her attorneys, Kenneth Turkel, argued that the editorial board couldn’t possibly claim ignorance of the facts or a simple error because they had run another story… literally the same day… which refuted what they’d written in the editorial.

It didn’t take too much digging in the archives to confirm that Palin’s team is correct. The article was by Alexander Burns and it does indeed appear in the Gray Lady on the same day that the editorial came out. And if you go back and read both the original and “corrected” editorials from the board of the New York Times, their “retraction and correction” appears almost word for word in Burns’ article. (Emphasis added)

In 2011, the shooting of Ms. Giffords by a mentally ill assailant came during a convulsive political period, when a bitter debate over health care yielded a wave of threats against lawmakers. Sarah Palin, the former vice-presidential candidate, drew sharp criticism for having posted a graphic online that showed cross hairs over the districts of several members of Congress, including Ms. Giffords — though no connection to the crime was established.

I’m still not ready to call this one a slam dunk for Palin. Getting a court to hold a newspaper accountable for what are ostensibly the opinions of the editors is a steep hill to climb. But this adds a new wrinkle to the plot. The editors of a newspaper are responsible for the content which makes it out the door, yes? And if Burns’ article was approved then it was with the blessing of the editors. Given that they turned around and opined something directly contradictory on the same day leaves the court with two possible conclusions. Either the editors of the Times were knowingly accusing Palin of something they knew not to be true (or certainly should have known) or they are so criminally incompetent that they shouldn’t have any business editing a paper of such age and repute.

Which one sounds better to you? I still think they’ll send their attorneys into court to plead incompetence.