Jury rules against Sarah Palin in NY Times case after judge says he will dismiss it

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NEW YORK (Reuters) – A U.S. federal jury on Tuesday ruled against Sarah Palin in her lawsuit accusing the New York Times of defaming her in a 2017 editorial that incorrectly linked her to a mass shooting, after the presiding judge said he would dismiss the case regardless of the verdict.

Palin, the former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican U.S. vice presidential candidate, is expected to appeal.

The case in Manhattan federal court is considered a major test of longstanding libel protections for American media.

A landmark 1964 U.S. Supreme Court precedent, New York Times v Sullivan, established an “actual malice” standard for public figures like Palin to prove defamation, meaning that media knowingly published false information or had a reckless disregard for the truth.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff in Manhattan said Palin had not met that “very high” standard, even as he faulted the Times for “very unfortunate editorializing” in the editorial.

He said letting the jurors reach a verdict could avoid complications should Palin appeal.

Palin viewed the case in biblical terms, testifying on Feb. 10 that she considered herself the underdog to the Times’ Goliath.

She sued the Times and its former editorial page editor James Bennet over a June 14, 2017, editorial that incorrectly linked her to a January 2011 mass shooting in Arizona that killed six people and wounded Democratic U.S. congresswoman Gabby Giffords.

It was written after a gunman opened fire at a congressional baseball practice in Virginia, wounding several people including Republican U.S. congressman Steve Scalise.

The editorial referred to a map circulated by Palin’s political action committee before the Arizona shooting that put the districts of Giffords and 19 other Democrats under cross hairs.

Bennet wrote that “the link to political incitement was clear,” though there was no evidence the map motivated the gunman.

The Times corrected the editorial the next morning after readers and one of its columnists complained. Bennet testified that he did not intend to harm Palin and that he felt terrible about the mistake.

Two conservative Supreme Court justices, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, have called for the Sullivan decision to be reconsidered. There is no guarantee the court will eventually take Palin’s case.

Palin was the late Senator John McCain’s running mate in the 2008 presidential election, and Alaska’s governor from 2006 to 2009.