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Judge to dismiss Sarah Palin defamation case against The New York Times

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff in Manhattan said he will order the dismissal of Palin’s lawsuit after the jury finishes deliberating.

A New York City federal judge said Monday he would dismiss Sarah Palin's claim that she was defamed by The New York Times when it incorrectly linked her to a 2011 mass shooting in Arizona that nearly killed former Rep. Gabby Giffords.

Palin, who was the governor of Alaska when she rocketed to fame in 2008 after Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the GOP presidential nominee, picked her as his running mate, claimed her reputation had been damaged by the Times editorial.

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff in Manhattan disagreed and said he will order the dismissal of Palin’s lawsuit, but enter his order after her jury finishes its own deliberations, Reuters reported.

Rakoff said he expected Palin to appeal, and that the appeals court “would greatly benefit from knowing how the jury would decide it.”

In the unlikely event the jury rules in Palin's favor, Rakoff said he would set aside the panel's verdict.

It was the second legal defeat for Palin in her ongoing battle against the New York Times.

Palin first sued the Times in 2017 after it published an editorial that year about a shooting at a congressional baseball team practice in Virginia that wounded Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., and several staffers and lobbyists.

In the editorial, titled “America’s Lethal Politics,” the editorial board appeared to draw a connection between the 2011 Giffords shooting and promotional materials used by a Palin-linked group.

This excerpt in particular drew Palin's ire:

"Was this attack evidence of how vicious American politics has become? Probably. 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."

The Times issued a correction shortly afterward, saying “no such link was established” between political rhetoric and the 2011 violence.

The editorial page editor at the time, James Bennet, also issued an apology.

But Palin, whose public gaffes had already made her a punchline to many Americans, sued the Times anyway.

Right from the start, legal experts — including her own lawyers — doubted Palin would prevail because the hurdles for a public figure to prove that they’ve been libeled are high.

“We come to this case with our eyes wide open, keenly aware of the fact that we’re fighting an uphill battle,” Palin lawyer Shane Vogt said in an opening statement.

To win, Palin would not only need to prove that the Times’ claim was false, but also that the outlet had operated with “actual malice,” meaning the newspaper published the claim knowing it was false. 

And when Palin first sued the Times for defamation, in 2017, a federal judge tossed it, saying the Republican firebrand had failed to show that the newspaper knew it was publishing false statements in the editorial before quickly correcting them.

Both times Palin had some high-powered Tampa, Florida-based lawyers pressing her case: Vogt and Kenneth Turkel, who helped Terry "Hulk Hogan" Bollea win a huge libel suit that bankrupted the media outlet Gawker.

Sarah Palin arrives for her defamation lawsuit against The New York Times at the United States Courthouse in New York on Feb. 14, 2022.
Sarah Palin arrives for her defamation lawsuit against The New York Times at the United States Courthouse in New York on Feb. 14, 2022.Eduardo Munoz / Reuters

Tech billionaire and Trump supporter Peter Thiel bankrolled the Hulk Hogan lawsuit. Palin has refused to say who is footing the bill for her defamation lawsuits.

“I felt powerless," Palin testified in Manhattan federal court. "I knew that, you know, if I wanted to raise my head and try to get the word out that there were untruths printed, once again, I knew that I was up against Goliath, and I felt, collectively, that I was David."

But when pressed by New York Times lawyer David Axelrod, Palin admitted she still appears regularly on Fox News and could conceivably run for office again, but could not explain how she was personally harmed by the editorial.

“I can’t name names of my friends or those who know me who shied away, no,” said Palin.

Before the trial got underway, Palin made headlines after it was revealed that two days after she tested positive for Covid-19, she had dined in a Manhattan restaurant that is a magnet for celebrities.

Palin, who has refused to get vaccinated, continued to dine out in New York City in defiance of federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that recommend that people who test positive for Covid self-isolate for five days “even if you don’t have symptoms.”

The office of New York City Mayor Eric Adams urged New Yorkers who crossed paths with Palin to get tested.