Court Dismisses Former Alaska Governor's New York Federal Defamation Action Alleging Editorial Falsely Indicated That Governor Incited 2011 Shooting Of Congresswoman
Editor’s Note: This week's document of the week features an order from a federal case that was not submitted to the Lexis Jury Verdict team. This case was chosen based on the noteworthy opinion, which begins by stating “Nowhere is political journalism so free, so robust, or perhaps so rowdy as in the United States.”
On June 14, 2017, The New York Times Company published an editorial regarding the shooting of Representative Steve Scalise and others practicing for the annual charity congressional baseball game. Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska and a former vice-presidential candidate, claimed that in the article, "America's Lethal Politics," the editorial board of The Times falsely indicated that Palin had incited the 2011 shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and others. The article was promoted on social media and published in print. On June 15, 2017 and June 16, 2017, The Times made corrections to the article.
On June 27, 2017, Palin filed a complaint alleging defamation against The Times in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
The Times filed a motion to dismiss on July 14, 2017, contending that the complaint failed to state a claim as a matter of law. On Aug. 29, 2017, Judge Jed S. Rakoff granted the motion and dismissed the action with prejudice. The court found that the complaint failed to adequately allege actual malice and determined that the editorial that included a few factual inaccuracies that were quickly corrected was not defamation of a public figure. The court stated that “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. “
Palin was represented by Kenneth G. Turkel and Shane B. Vogt of Bajo Cuva Cohen Turkel and Shawn Preston Ricardo of Golenbock Eiseman Assor Bell & Peskoe. The Times was represented by David A.. Schulz, Jay Ward Brown, Lee Levine, and Michael D. Sullivan of Levine, Sullivan, Koch & Schulz and Thomas S. Leatherbury of Vinson & Elkins.
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