Pleading incompetence to avoid libel damages

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on August 24, 2017

Former Alaska Gov. and Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin is suing the New York Times for libel after it accused her in an editorial earlier this year of inspiring madman Jared Loughner to attack Arizona Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

I'm no fan of Sarah Palin, especially after she used what little Tea Party-related credibility she had when she endorsed Donald Trump in 2016. But I'm even less of a fan of the partisan New York Times editorial page, and they've really stepped in it this time.

This is libel

The libelous paragraph, originally read:

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 crosshairs.

A scan of the editorial appears below.

The New York Times' "America's Lethal Politics" editorial.

Set aside the fact that the event that prompted the editorial was the shooting of Rep. Steven Scalise, a Republican, by a Bernie Sanders volunteer. Also ignore that the Scalise shooting followed months of left-wing violence on college campuses against conservatives and alt-right figures.

The only incident of allegedly right-wing violence that the Times could think of to condemn was a six-year-old shooting by a guy with a history of mental problems. A link to the "right-wing" that had been debunked in the weeks and months following that 2011 shooting.

The paragraph on the Times site now reads:

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

And the editorial contains this correction at the bottom:

Correction: June 16, 2017 

An editorial on Thursday about the shooting of Representative Steve Scalise incorrectly stated that a link existed between political rhetoric and the 2011 shooting of Representative Gabby Giffords. In fact, no such link was established. The editorial also incorrectly described a map distributed by a political action committee before that shooting. It depicted electoral districts, not individual Democratic lawmakers, beneath stylized cross hairs.

World's worst editor

Which brings us to editorial page editor James Bennet pictured at the top of this post. In a hearing last week before a judge hearing a motion by the Times to dismiss Palin's libel suit, Bennet appeared in court and pleaded incompetence.

Bennet, during the hearing, revealed that he was not the primary writer of the editorial, but substantially rewrote the draft that was submitted to him by a Washington, D.C.-based editorial writer, Elizabeth Williamson. Williamson was not available to testify on Wednesday, but the judge asked both parties to decide if they'd like her to testify in the near future.

"What I wasn't trying to say was that there was a direct causal link between this map and the shooting," Bennet said. "What I was concerned about was the overall climate of political incitement."

He continued: "I didn't mean to suggest that Loughner wasn't responsible. ... I did not think that Jared Loughner was acting because of this map."

Read that paragraph above that Bennet originally crafted one more time and tell me Bennet's use of the phrase "...the link to political incitement was clear..." and then recounting the Palin PAC map wasn't intended to "link" the two.

A high school journalism student? I'd buy it.

A college journalism student? I'd buy it, give them an "F" and warn them about the terms "malice," "reckless disregard for the truth," and "libel."

The editorial page editor of the nation's "paper of record" with decades of experience under his belt? Not a chance.

I can't believe the judge will buy this excuse. But the whole brouhaha is a well-earned indictment of the partisan misbehavior of the mainstream media that has tossed any pretense of "unbiased" reporting into the crapper.


This complaint was resolved (not really!) in mere hours!

Seriously, this is crazy, @factchecknet. Your transparency on this craziness is long overdue. @baybarsorsek @Ferdi_Ozsoy

It was a weak field for @PolitiFact's "Lie of the Year" readers' poll this year, so I wrote in a suggestion.

The suggestion may not be original with me, so apologies to anyone who specifically suggested this one before.

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August 2017



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