The New York Times published an op-ed titled “America’s Lethal Politics” after a Bernie Sanders supporter tried to assassinate the Republican Congressional baseball team. In it, the writer treated as fact the crazy claim that the shooting of Representative Gabby Giffords was caused by imagery on Sarah Palin’s PAC web site. The former Alaska Governor filed a defamation lawsuit in response. Now that suit has been thrown out by a federal judge.
U.S. District Court judge Jed Rakoff dismissed the complaint on Tuesday.
“Nowhere is political journalism so free, so robust, or perhpas so rowdy as in the United States,” writes the judge in an opinion. “In the exercise of that freedom, mistakes will be made, some of which will be hurtful to others. Responsible journals will promptly correct their errors; others will not. But if political journalism is to achieve its constitutionally endorsed role of challenging the powerful, legal redress by a public figure must be limited to those cases where the public figure has a plausible factual basis for complaining that the mistake was made maliciously, that is, with knowledge it was false or with reckless disregard of its falsity.”
Rakoff says Palin has not made the standard of demonstrating actual malice. The opinion comes after the judge rather unusually called upon the paper’s editorial writer to testify. At the hearing, James Bennet said under oath that he didn’t mean to link Palin to the shooting and was more concerned with the overall climate of political incitement in the wake of a June 14 shooting on members of Congress practicing for a charity baseball game. Palin’s attorneys argued this wasn’t enough — nor was the correction that the paper appended to its editorial — but Rakoff is dispensing with the suit.
You can read the Judge’s ruling here. Rakoff was appointed to the federal bench by Bill Clinton in 1995.