In the 1964 case of New York Times v. Sullivan, the Supreme Court ruled that a public figure can only prevail in a libel suit against a press organ if it can be shown that the press organ not only reported false information but acted with either “malice” or “reckless disregard of whether it was true or false.” On the basis of that precedent, the same press organ, the New York Times, just won another case, this time in a lawsuit brought by Sarah Palin.
On June 14, 2017, right after a shooting at a baseball field in Washington that wounded Republican Representative Steve Scalise and three other individuals, the New York Times ran an editorial that looked back at a 2011 shooting in Arizona where the wounded included Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords. The editorial referred to an ad campaign that Sarah Palin’s Political Action Committee had run which identified districts held by Democrats, and implied that the ad campaign had encouraged political violence by targeting individual politicians. In other words, the editorial implied that Sarah Palin was at fault in the shooting of Representative Giffords.
There is no dispute that what the Times editorial said was wrong. It is, after all, a fact of life that both political parties today are trying to win electoral districts against each other, and that there is a big difference between expressing the hope that a representative from the other party will lose the next election and expressing the hope that such a representative will be shot. The Times agreed, and changed the offending portions of that editorial online. Still, Sarah Palin feld aggrieved, and she sued.
A federal district court judge has just dismissed her suit. Again, nobody is disagreeing that the Times did something careless, but Sarah Palin did not quite meet the threshold of proving that they were reckless.
New York Times article, August 29, 2017
Politico article, August 29, 2017