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One-time Republican vice presidential candidate and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin went to trial against the New York Times on Thursday, in a highly anticipated defamation case that could test long-standing protections for American news media.
Palin is suing over a 2017 editorial that incorrectly linked her political rhetoric to a 2011 Arizona mass shooting that left six dead and Congresswoman Gabby Giffords seriously wounded - and which the newspaper later corrected.
Palin's lawyer in his opening statement told jurors Palin was fighting an "uphill battle" as she tries to show the editorial reflected a disregard of the facts and what he called the Times’ "history of bias" toward her and other Republicans.
The Times' lawyer countered in his opening statement that the editorial sought to hold both Democrats and Republicans responsible for inflammatory rhetoric, and said the newspaper acted "as quickly as possible" to correct its mistake.
To win, Palin must convince the jury that the Times acted with "actual malice," meaning it knew the editorial was false or had reckless disregard for the truth.
BOUTROUS JR: “This case is very significant….”
Theodore Boutrous Jr. is a noted Los Angeles-based litigator, who said the trial could prove to be a test of a landmark case from over 50 years ago.
“She's arguing that another New York Times case, New York Times versus Sullivan from the U.S. Supreme Court in 1964, should be ultimately overturned in this case and swept aside, which would be a monumental change in the law that would be extraordinarily harmful to freedom of the press in this country."
The Times has not suffered a loss in a defamation case in more than half a century – and Boutrous says Palin has a tough case to prove.
“There has to be proof that the journalist acted, knowing what they were publishing was false, before you can get a defamation verdict against them. Because otherwise it will make reporters too cautious, too worried if any little mistake can give rise to a multimillion dollar judgment. That's the principle that's at stake here."
The trial’s start was delayed by more than two weeks because Palin tested positive for the coronavirus. She has publicly said she will not get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Palin is seeking unspecified damages from the Times for alleged harm to her reputation.