Tuesday, 15 August 2017

"We got an important fact wrong..."

The New York Times
Sarah Palin is seeking $75,000 in damages from The New York Times. Her lawsuit alleges that the newspaper defamed her in an editorial by linking her to the 2011 shooting of Gabby Giffords. The editorial (headlined "America's Lethal Politics") was published online on 14th June, and appeared in the newspaper's print edition the following day. It was written by James Bennet, though as is conventional for leader columns, it was not bylined.

As originally published, the editorial stated: "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."

In fact, Palin's map showed Democratic districts, not politicians, in crosshairs. Also, no causal link has been found between Palin's map and the Giffords shooting. The newspaper issued a clarification via Twitter on 15th June: "We got an important fact wrong, incorrectly linking political incitement and the 2011 shooting of Giffords." It also made several revisions to the article online.

On 15th June, an extra sentence was inserted into the online version of the article, after the Palin reference: "But in that case no connection to the shooting was ever established." A subsequent reference to the Giffords shooting ("Though there's no sign of incitement as direct as in the Giffords attack") was removed. Finally, Palin's map was more accurately described as "a map that showed the targeted electoral districts of Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized cross hairs."

Arguably, the reference to Palin's map should have been removed altogether, as the revised version of the editorial stresses that there was "no connection" between the crosshairs and the shooting of Giffords. However, for Palin to win her legal case, she will be required to prove that the newspaper acted with 'actual malice' by deliberately publishing false and damaging information.

Palin's lawsuit is one of several recent defamation cases against news organisations. The "pink slime" case was settled out of court last week, with Beef Products receiving $177 million from Disney, the parent company of ABC News. Melania Trump sued the Daily Mail last year, and received $3 million in damages. A documentary on the Gawker case, Nobody Speak, was released in June.

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