NEW YORK — Well over a decade after she emerged on the national stage as a Republican vice-presidential nominee, Sarah Palin is on the verge of making new headlines in a legal battle with The New York Times.
A defamation lawsuit against the Times, brought by the brash former Alaska governor in 2017, is set to go to trial starting today in federal court in Manhattan.
Her case survived an initial dismissal that was reversed on appeal in 2019, setting the stage for a rare instance that a major news organization will have to defend itself before a jury in a libel case involving a major public figure.
Palin, 57, claims the Times damaged her reputation with an opinion piece penned by its editorial board that falsely asserted her political rhetoric helped incite the 2011 shooting of then-Arizona U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords. The newspaper has conceded the initial wording of the editorial was flawed, but not in an intentional or reckless way that made it libelous.
It’s presumed that Palin will be the star witness in the civil case, taking the stand to back up accusations that the Times should pay damages for hurting her budding career as a political commentator. There was no response to messages left last week with her lawyers asking if and when she will testify.
Palin sued the Times in 2017, citing the editorial about gun control published after Louisiana U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, also a Republican, was wounded when a man with a history of anti-GOP activity opened fire on a Congressional baseball team practice in Washington.
In the editorial, the Times wrote that, before the 2011 mass shooting that severely wounded Giffords and killed six others, Palin’s political action committee circulated a map of electoral districts that put Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized crosshairs.
In a correction two days later, The Times said the editorial had “incorrectly stated that a link existed between political rhetoric and the 2011 shooting” and that it had “incorrectly described” the map.
The disputed wording had been added to the editorial by James Bennet, then the editorial page editor. At trial, a jury would have to decide whether he acted with “actual malice,” meaning that he knew what he wrote was false, or with “reckless disregard” for the truth.
In pretrial testimony, Bennet cited deadline pressures as he explained that he did not personally research the information about Palin’s political action committee before approving the editorial’s publication. He said he believed the editorial was accurate when it was published.