A judge in the United States has said he plans to dismiss Sarah Palin’s libel lawsuit against the New York Times, which the former Alaska governor had accused of damaging her reputation in an editorial that falsely linked her campaign rhetoric to a mass shooting.
US District Judge Jed Rakoff made the ruling on Monday with a jury still deliberating at the New York City trial where the former Alaska governor and vice-presidential candidate testified last week.
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The judge said Palin had failed to show that The Times had acted out of malice, something required in libel lawsuits involving public figures.
Rakoff said, however, that he would let jury deliberations continue in case his decision winds up being reversed on appeal. Jurors began deliberating on Friday and resumed their work on Monday. They are not being told about the judge’s ruling.
Lawyers for both Palin and The Times declined to immediately comment on the judge’s decision.
Palin, 58, sued the newspaper – one of the US’s most prominent media organisations – and its former editorial page editor James Bennet over a June 2017 editorial that she argued incorrectly linked her to a mass shooting six years earlier that wounded Democratic US Congresswoman Gabby Giffords.
Palin claimed that The Times had damaged her career as a political commentator and consultant with the editorial, which was published after a shooting at a congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia where Republican Congressman Steve Scalise was wounded.
In the editorial, The Times wrote that before the 2011 mass shooting in Arizona that severely wounded Giffords and killed six others, Palin’s political action committee had contributed to an atmosphere of violence by circulating a map of electoral districts that put Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylised crosshairs.
The Times acknowledged that the editorial wrongly described both the map, and any link to the shooting, but said the mistake was not intentional.
On the witness stand, Palin compared herself, a celebrated conservative politician with a national following, to the biblical underdog David against the Times’ Goliath, while accusing the newspaper of trying to “score political points”.
Palin testified that the editorial left her feeling “powerless” and “mortified”, and that the correction issued by the newspaper the morning after publication was accurate but insufficient and did not mention her by name.
She maintained that The Times undermined her reputation by falsely linking her to a mass murder and by not being fast or thorough enough in correcting its error.
However, Palin struggled under cross-examination to provide specific examples about how the editorial harmed her reputation and cost her opportunities.