Sarah Palin is suing the New York Times for defamation. Given all they’ve printed over the years, you might be like, well, yeah. But defamation is a high bar for public officials, so what pulled the trigger, so to speak—a 2017 editorial linking her to a deadly shooting in Arizona. Remember the map with targeted districts?
Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate, and former Alaska governor, sued over a June 14, 2017 editorial published after an Alexandria, Virginia, shooting that wounded four people, including then-House Majority Whip Steve Scalise.
The editorial referred to a January 2011 shooting where six people died, and Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was seriously wounded, and said Palin’s political action committee had before that shooting circulated a map that put 20 Democrats including Giffords under “stylized cross hairs.”
The event turned Giffords and her husband into high-profile gun grabbers and earned a bit of coverage on our pages (one example) as well. The Times has asked a judge to dismiss the case, but that didn’t happen.
In a ruling issued Friday evening, Rakoff said the issues were not as clear-cut as either party suggested, so the matter will have to be decided by a jury. He set Feb. 1, 2021, as a target for a trial to open in the case, but noted that the date could be delayed as courts continue to struggle with in-person proceedings amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The initial version of the 2017 Times editorial said it was “clear” that the 2011 shooting was linked to a map Palin’s political action committee released that included crosshairs over Giffords’ Tucson district. However, no such link has ever been established. The shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, was found to be mentally ill and was sentenced to life in prison in 2012.
Again, defamation is hard to prove. And a jury may not find anything more than circumstantial evidence. But the case is proceeding to trial, and that’s something if there is something to it.