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Sarah Palin defamation suit against the New York Times goes to trial

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Photographer: Matthew Staver/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin's defamation suit against the New York Times is headed to trial, reports Politico.

In 2017, the New York Times linked Ms. Palin's political activities to a 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona. Palin's political action committee — aptly named Sarah PAC — published a map calling for political action prior to the 2012 midterm elections. The map cited potentially vulnerable Democratic members of the United States House of Representatives who voted for the Affordable Care Act championed by then-President Barack Obama.

The map superimposed crosshairs on each politician's congressional district and proclaimed, "It's time to take a stand" in the upper right corner. In 2011, Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.) — one of the House members listed by Palin — was shot by a mentally disturbed lone gunman along with 20 other people.

The 2017 editorial, which prompted Palin's defamation suit, connected the map circulated by Sarah PAC as an example of right-wing political speech inciting violence, as evidenced by the stylized crosshairs imposed upon each congressperson's district and the subsequent shooting in Tucson. Less than a month after the piece ran, Palin filed suit against the Times.

Palin's suit, which experienced prolonged delays partly due the COVID-19 pandemic, is set to begin with jury selection today in a Manhattan federal court. Her suit comes as media companies and journalists face increasing accountability for publishing possibly defamatory content after enjoying nearly sixty years of extensive freedom of speech protections.

New York Times Co. v. Sullivan was a landmark decision in 1964 in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that freedom of speech protections prevent public figures in America from suing media entities for defamation unless they can prove said companies were motivated by "actual malice."

First Amendment litigator Floyd Abrams lamented that "the golden days" when "there were a number of very pro-press decisions coming down in the Supreme Court and trial courts" have ended.

In recent years, members of the Supreme Court — Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch — have even criticized the precedent established in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, urging that its outcome be rethought.

Ms. Palin is represented by the attorneys who won professional wrestler Hulk Hogan $140 million in damages from the gossip blog Gawker after it published an ill-begotten sex tape of the celebrity and refused a judge's order to remove it from the website.

Palin's case certainly lacks the intimate personal scandal characterizing Hulk Hogan's, but her lawyers believe they have evidence of a pattern of behavior that reaches the threshold of actual malice.

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