Daily Column – 24th January 2022

It’s going to be a big First Amendment case today between former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and the New York Times.

The storey behind it

After the shooting at the practise session for the Congressional Baseball Game for Charity, the New York Times ran an editorial that linked the PAC of Sarah Palin to another mass shooting, one in Arizona in 2011 that killed six and injured Democratic Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. The PAC made an ad for the Congressional Baseball Game for Charity. This is what the editorial board said: “The link was clear.”

The claim that Palin’s PAC sent out a map that put Giffords and 19 other Democrats in crosshairs was just not true. The New York Times quickly made changes and tweeted an apology, but they didn’t mention Sarah Palin.

Palin sued the paper less than two weeks later, claiming that it had lied about her and asking for unknown damages. In the beginning, the judge threw out the case. Later, an appeals court brought it back.

The way the trial will go is what you need to know about

Palin will have to work hard to win. It is important for her to show that the New York Times acted with “actual malice” when it published the editorial. This means that the NYT either knowingly meant to harm Sarah Palin with the falsehoods it used in the editorial, or it used the falsehoods in the editorial with “reckless disregard.”

That “actual malice” standard was set up by the Supreme Court in 1964, in a case that also involved the New York Times.

NYT says it was an honest mistake. We are very concerned about fairness and accuracy in our journalism, and when we make mistakes, we make them public so that people can see them and learn from them. This is what a spokesperson said to CNN.

This may still be embarrassing for the New York Times, though, because it may show that they used bad editing practises before a tight deadline. During the writing of this editorial, James Bennett, a member of the Times’ editorial board at the time, added false paragraphs at the last minute because he didn’t like a draught written by Elizabeth Williamson.

Case: “It will help draw a line between bad and libellous journalism,” the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple said.

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