The New York Times didn’t act with malice when it mistakenly suggested in an editorial that Sarah Palin incited the 2011 shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords, a lawyer for the paper said in Manhattan federal court yesterday at the first hearing on Palin’s defamation suit.
“There was an honest mistake in posting the editorial,” said Times lawyer David Schulz. “It was corrected within 12 or 13 hours . . . So there’s no evidence that there was a knowing intent to put out misinformation.”
The lawsuit focuses on a June 14 Times editorial in the wake of the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise. It cited a map circulated by a Palin political committee targeting Giffords’ district with crosshairs over the congresswoman, and claimed “political incitement” by the former GOP vice-presidential nominee was behind the shooting.
But there has never been evidence that shooter Jared Loughner, whose focus on Giffords predated Palin’s map, ever saw it, and the crosshairs were over Giffords’ district — not her face. The Times ran a correction, but not an apology.
The Supreme Court has ruled that defamation suits by public figures must establish that a news organization acted with malice — either with knowledge it was reporting false facts, or with reckless disregard for the truth.
Palin’s lawyer Kenneth Turkel told U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff, that on the same day of its editorial the Times also printed a news story correctly reporting that Palin’s map was not tied to Giffords’ shooting, raising doubt about a claim the paper made an honest error due to ignorance.
“Of course they knew,” Turkel said. “It was well-established beforehand, and it was published — the falsity of it was literally acknowledged the same day in another story in their paper. If they didn’t know, they certainly should have known.”
“In your view,” the judge noted as Turkel agreed, “the statement was so out of whack with the facts reported . . . in their own news story that no one could make that kind of mistake by accident.”
Rakoff said he would postpone any depositions until the Times had a chance to move to dismiss the case based on lack of malice and other grounds.
The judge scheduled a hearing for July 31, and said that if the suit survives, trial would start on Dec. 11.
Six people were shot and killed by Loughner and 13, including Giffords, were injured.