In early May, Liz Spayd, then the public editor of the New York Times, marveled in a column how rare it was for the paper to get sued, writing, "It’s curious how few companies or individuals actually do sue the paper for allegedly libelous claims." One month later, Sarah Palin, one of the most recognizable names in politics, has filed a lawsuit against The Times for defamation.
The 2008 vice presidential candidate is taking legal action over an editorial that insinuated that a Palin-aligned group was ultimately responsible for Jared Loughner's 2011 shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords. In a complaint obtained by The Washington Post, Palin's lawyers decried The Times' partial treatment toward Democrats after James Hodgkinson shot Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, but had to fabricate facts to incriminate her.
Journalists who covered Gifford's shooting at the time, such as CNN's Jake Tapper, immediately fact checked The Times, noting there was no nexus between Loughner and Palin.
Palin's attorneys agreed with Tapper in their complaint.
At the time of publication, The Times knew and had published pieces acknowledging that there was no connection between Mrs. Palin and Loughner’s 2011 shooting. Moreover, The Times’ false statements about the link between Mrs. Palin and the Loughner shooting stood in stark contrast to how The Times treated speculation about political motives behind Hodgkinson’s rampage: The Times concluded that there was not a connection between Hodgkinson and his professed penchant for Democratic stances sufficient to warrant implicating Democrats or the Bernie Sanders campaign as inciting factors for Hodgkinson’s attack.
The Times did issue a series of corrections shortly after the editorial was published, but Palin's attorneys did not find the amendments satisfactory, as the first one did not even mention Palin by name, The Post's Erik Wemple reported.
“Given that the entire premise of the Palin Article was the ‘disturbing pattern’ of politically incited violence emanating from a non-existent link between Mrs. Palin and Loughner’s 2011 crime, which The Times conceded did not exist, the entire Palin Article should have been retracted — not minimally and inadequately corrected — and The Times should have apologized to Mrs. Palin,” the complaint said.
Fortunately for The Times, proving defamation in the U.S. is a high bar to leap. The First Amendment affords broad protections to journalists.