Jury rejects Sarah Palin's libel claim against the New York Times

A jury in Sarah Palin’s libel suit against the New York Times on Tuesday returned a unanimous verdict that found there was insufficient evidence to prove that the newspaper had defamed her.

The verdict came a day after U.S. District Court Judge Jed Rakoff said he would dismiss the lawsuit because Palin’s lawyers had failed to produce evidence that the newspaper knew that what it wrote about her in a 2017 editorial was false or defamatory.

“You decided the facts, I decided the law,” Rakoff told the jury following its verdict. “As it turns out, they were both in agreement with this case."

Rakoff’s initial dismissal announcement came as a Manhattan jury was deliberating the closely watched case. Rakoff said Palin had failed to show that the Times had acted out of malice, which is required in libel lawsuits involving public figures. Palin is expected to appeal the decision.

The suit revolved around a 2017 editorial that incorrectly connected the former vice presidential candidate’s political action committee to a 2011 shooting in Arizona that severely wounded Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., and left six others dead.

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin raises a finger as if to make a point as she arrives at a federal court in Manhattan. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images)
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin arrives at a federal court in Manhattan on Tuesday. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images)

The paper eventually added a correction, saying the editorial “incorrectly stated that a link existed between political rhetoric and the 2011 shooting.”

“In fact, no such link was established,” the correction read. “The editorial also incorrectly described a map distributed by a political action committee before that shooting. It depicted electoral districts, not individual Democratic lawmakers, beneath stylized cross-hairs.”

While the Times editorial was clearly in error, Palin’s legal team needed to prove that the paper and its former editorial page lead, James Bennet, knew ahead of time that it was publishing an inaccuracy. That standard, known as “actual malice,” was established in the 1964 Supreme Court case New York Times Co. v. Sullivan. The case, in which the commissioner of the Montgomery, Ala., police department sued the New York Times and supporters of Martin Luther King Jr., is seen as a landmark in First Amendment protections.

Despite the ruling, the judge was critical of the newspaper for publishing the editorial.

“This is an example of very unfortunate editorializing on the part of the Times,” Rakoff said Monday, according to the Daily Beast, adding that he was “not at all happy” to rule in the newspaper’s favor.

The trial was initially delayed after Palin tested positive for COVID-19, although that did not stop her from dining out in New York City multiple times, even though she is not vaccinated.

Palin vaulted to national prominence in 2008, when she was selected by John McCain as his running mate on the Republican presidential ticket. After losing in that race later that year, she stepped down as governor in July 2009, serving as a political commentator. She has participated in a number of reality shows in the years since.