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Of course the New York Times defamed Sarah Palin
The idea that the Times did not know its attack on Palin was false, based on institutional memory alone, is utter nonsense.
The jury in the Sarah Palin libel lawsuit was wrong: The New York Times did knowingly and intentionally directly tie Palin to a mass shooting and the attempted assassination of Gabby Giffords. The idea that the Times did not know this was false, based on institutional memory alone, is utter nonsense. It had been well-documented at that point that Jared Loughner was not inspired by Palin.
It is critical to note that the New York Times did not make a factual error in a straight news article. Had that been the case, one could make the argument that the reporter was sloppy in a rush to meet a deadline. But when that statement was included in a staff editorial - the official position of the newspaper - that was clearly meant to be a slap at Palin herself. Palin had faded from the national spotlight by this point, and there was little chance she would be running for President. The swipe at Palin was pure vindictiveness.
Here is the relevant portion of the original editorial:
In 2011, when Jared Lee Loughner opened fire in a supermarket parking lot, grievously wounding Representative Gabby Giffords and killing six people, including a 9-year-old girl, the link to political incitement was clear. Before the shooting, Sarah Palin’s political action committee circulated a map of targeted electoral districts that put Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized cross hairs.
Here is that same quote from the revised editorial:
In 2011, Jared Lee Loughner opened fire in a supermarket parking lot, grievously wounding Representative Gabby Giffords and killing six people, including a 9-year-old girl. At the time, we and others were sharply critical of the heated political rhetoric on the right. Before the shooting, Sarah Palin’s political action committee circulated a map that showed the targeted electoral districts of Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized cross hairs. But in that case no connection to the shooting was ever established.
The editorial itself represents childish whataboutism. We had just had a mass shooting of Republican members of Congress by an avowed supporter of Bernie Sanders. The Times, in a desperate attempt to distract from that, pulled out the juvenile "she did it toooooooooooo!" card. The Giffords shooting had taken place six and a half years earlier. There were plenty of other relevant and much more recent examples of "irresponsible" Republican rhetoric to use, including from the sitting President of the United States. But the New York Times wanted to dust off a long-discredited meme to attack Palin.
Should libel laws be updated, especially since false information flies around the world almost instantaneously on social media? Perhaps, though "reforms" certainly do have the potential for abuse. Making lawsuits easier will have much more impact on small publishers and private citizens than big media companies that can afford to pay for corporate lawyers. But if libel laws are "opened up" and it becomes much easier to sue for defamation and win, the news media will have itself to blame for its reckless and irresponsible behavior. The abuse of First Amendment protections endangers those rights for all of us.