Federal Judge Jed Rakoff dismissed Sarah Palin’s defamation lawsuit against the New York Times on Tuesday. The judge delivered his opinion with a defense and explanation of political journalism:
Nowhere is political journalism so free, so robust, or perhaps so rowdy as in the United States. 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. Here, plaintiff’s complaint, even when supplemented by facts developed at an evidentiary hearing convened by the Court, fails to make that showing. Accordingly, the complaint must be dismissed.
The former vice presidential candidate sued the New York Times after the newspaper published an editorial that originally connected an advertisement from Palin’s political action group to the 2011 Tucson shooting. The original editorial was written by Elizabeth Williamson, but editorial page editor James Bennet significantly rewrote the piece, including the language that Palin took issue with.
The paper later corrected the editorial further as there is no evidence that Jared Loughner, the Tucson shooter, was influenced by Palin’s map of Democratic districts with crosshair symbols or had even seen the graphic.
The New York Times said in a statement, “We were delighted to see today’s decision. Judge Rakof’s opinion is an important reminder of the country’s deep commitment to a free press and the important role that journalism plays in our democracy.”
“We regret the errors we made in the editorial. But we were pleased to see that the court acknowledged the importance of the prompt correction we made once we learned of the mistakes.”
A request for comment from Palin was unsuccessful.