NY Times editorial writer: 'I didn't mean to suggest that Loughner wasn't responsible.'

We now know who wrote the NY Times editorial that led Sarah Palin to sue the paper for defamation. A first draft was written by editorial writer Elizabeth Williamson. However, the offensive part connecting Palin to the 2011 Tucson shooting was added in a rewrite by editorial page editor James Bennet. Bennet testified Tuesday in a hearing the judge ordered to help him decide whether or not to dismiss the lawsuit as lawyers for the NY Times have requested. During the hearing, Bennet claimed he didn’t mean to draw a direct connection between Palin and mass murder. From the Hollywood Reporter:

“What I wasn’t trying to say was that there was a direct causal link between this map and the shooting,” Bennet said. “What I was concerned about was the overall climate of political incitement.”

He continued: “I didn’t mean to suggest that Loughner wasn’t responsible. … I did not think that Jared Loughner was acting because of this map.”

Bennet testified that he had not, in advance of publication, read specific pieces of reporting in the Times about a potential connection between the PAC ad and the shooting, and said he did not know at the time of publication whether Loughner had seen the map. He also said that he had not personally seen the map. “I was not reporting the editorial, your honor, I was editing it,” Bennet said.

So, as predicted, the author is claiming ignorance. He hadn’t read his own paper on the topic. He hadn’t seen the map. He didn’t know if there was any connection to Palin. And, also, he wasn’t trying to connect the mass murder to Palin’s map. In case you’ve forgotten, here’s what Bennet wrote:

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 simply no other way to read this passage other than a direct claim the map was an incitement. Deadline reports Bennet was asked about that specific word during his testimony:

“I was looking for a very strong word about our political climate to get readers’ attention,” Bennet said. Incitement, he added, was a word that harkened to his days on the Israel-Palestinian conflict beat, conjuring notions of “summonses and orders for political attacks.”

But Bennet insisted that the phrasing was meant to connect the current political climate and its rhetoric to the victims of violence, and not to say that any particular “political piece” incited “a maniac” like the shooter.

Again, this can’t be true. If you’re claiming “direct” political incitement and the only thing you mention is Palin’s map, you are not talking about a general political climate. You are talking about a specific “political piece.” It’s astounding that the editorial page editor of the NY Times (apparently) needs this explained to him. Finally, Palin’s lawyers also highlighted Bennet could conceivably have a specific conflict of interest when it comes to Sarah Palin:

Kenneth Turkel, one of Palin’s attorneys, raised the issue of Bennet’s personal politics — at least by way of his family. Bennet’s brother is Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat whose opponent was endorsed by Palin in 2016. James Bennet said he isn’t surprised by Palin’s endorsement but that he either didn’t know or didn’t remember it when he wrote the editorial.

Again, his answer amounts to: I didn’t know. So, the best case scenario here is that the editor of the NY Times editorial page is both ignorant of the facts and incapable of crafting clear sentences. Hopefully, Judge Rakoff isn’t falling for his act. He said he will rule on the motion to dismiss before the end of the month.

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