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Jury begins deliberations in Sarah Palin’s lawsuit against the New York Times

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin arrives at federal court in New York.
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin arrives at federal court in New York on Friday.
(Jeenah Moon / Associated Press)
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A widely circulated New York Times editorial falsely linking former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to a mass shooting was a libelous display of arrogance and unchecked power, Palin’s lawyer said Friday in closing arguments at a defamation trial.

A Times lawyer conceded the newspaper had made a mistake, but argued there was no evidence it had set out to damage Palin’s reputation.

At the time of the 2017 editorial, Palin was far removed from her fleeting fame as the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, trying to live a quiet life in her home state, attorney Kenneth Turkel told a jury in federal court in Manhattan. The newspaper’s piece drew her into an unfair fight, Turkel said.

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“What this dispute is about in its simplest form is power, and lack of power,” he said. He called it an example of how the New York Times “treated people on the right they don’t agree with.... They don’t care. She’s just one of ‘them.’”

The Times ran a correction but never apologized to Palin, which was “indicative of an arrogance and sense of power that’s uncontrolled,” Turkel continued.

He added: “Sarah Palin has done nothing to deserve this.... All they had to do was dislike her a little less and we’re not sitting here today.”

In his closing argument, the newspaper’s lawyer, David Axelrod, called the case “incredibly important because it’s about freedom of the press.”

The 1st Amendment protects journalists “who make an honest mistake when they write about a person like Sarah Palin.… That’s all this was about — an honest mistake,” Axelrod said.

To prevail in the suit, the plaintiff “needs to show that it wasn’t just an honest mistake” but that the newspaper “printed something that they knew was false,” he said, arguing that the evidence showed “Gov. Palin can’t come close to meeting that burden.”

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He also pointed out that Palin’s lawsuit does not claim that she lost income because of the editorial. “She doesn’t do that because it didn’t happen,” he said.

Jurors deliberated for about two hours at the end of the day without reaching a verdict. They are to resume deliberations Monday morning.

The jury must decide whether the Times acted with “actual malice” against a public figure, meaning an editorial page editor knew what he wrote was false, or with “reckless disregard” for the truth, when he inserted the disputed wording into the piece. If the nine jurors find there was libel, they can set monetary damages.

Palin sued the newspaper for unspecified damages in 2017, almost a decade after she burst onto the national stage as GOP presidential nominee John McCain’s running mate. She alleged the Times had damaged her career as a political commentator and consultant with the editorial about gun control, published after Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) was wounded when a man with a history of anti-Republican activity opened fire on a congressional baseball team practice in Washington.

In the editorial, the Times wrote that before the 2011 mass shooting in Tucson that severely wounded former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and killed six others, Palin’s political action committee had contributed to an atmosphere of violence by circulating a map with stylized crosshairs over the electoral districts of Giffords and 19 other Democrats.

In a correction two days after the editorial was published, the Times said the editorial had “incorrectly stated that a link existed between political rhetoric and the 2011 shooting” and had “incorrectly described” the map.

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