Palin Tests Positive for COVID, NYT Trial Delayed

Defamation trial that will put newspaper under microscope over 2017 editorial now set for Feb. 3
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 24, 2022 7:56 AM CST
Updated Jan 24, 2022 11:30 AM CST
Sarah Palin's Suit Against NYT : 'It's Going to Be Ugly'
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin speaks at a rally on Sept. 21, 2017, in Montgomery, Ala.   (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Update: This file has been updated to include details on the trial delay. The defamation trial regarding Sarah Palin's lawsuit against the New York Times was set to kick off Monday, but plans changed after the former Alaska governor tested positive for COVID, per Law360. In a series of tweets, Frank Runyeon, a reporter for the site, details some of the confusion regarding Palin's COVID tests, noting that after an initial test came back positive, the court decided to wait for the results of a second, more reliable test before deciding to delay Monday's proceedings. Palin came back with not one more test, but two, both indicating she was positive—even though neither was the more reliable PCR test that US District Judge Jed S. Rakoff sought. Still, Rakoff is assuming she's positive, and so the trial has been delayed till Feb. 3. He noted earlier Monday morning: "She is of course unvaccinated."

Per the Guardian, the complaint revolves around a 2017 editorial in the Times that tied a 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, Ariz.—one that killed six and left Democratic Rep. Gabby Giffords severely injured— to a map that the former Alaska governor's PAC put out showing the districts of Giffords and other Dems under "stylized" crosshairs. In the original editorial, the text also noted that "the link to political incitement was clear." That text was later corrected to note there was no connection ever established between the map and the shooting, but Palin is now going after the paper in court—specifically, its former editorial page editor, James Bennet, who she says added text to an early draft penned by editorial writer Elizabeth Williamson.

NPR notes it was Bennet who added the "political incitement" line. Palin's objection: that, as an "experienced editor," Bennet allowed his own "preconceived narrative" to color the text, per the Guardian. Palin alleges she's suffered more than $420,000 in damages to her reputation in the incident, according to court papers. Experts are weighing in on Palin's chances of winning the case, and it looks like a tough climb, especially because the Times quickly corrected the editorial, and because in such libel cases involving public figures, "actual malice" must be proven—meaning the Times would have had to have intentionally printed something it knew was false, or "with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not," per a 1964 Supreme Court case on the matter.

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Still, with the paper's editorial processes now set to be under the spotlight, "it's going to be ugly," First Amendment attorney Lucy Dalglish tells NPR. CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin agrees, noting it will be an "excruciating experience" for all at the paper who were involved. "Because the simple fact is the story was wrong," he tells the outlet. "And no journalist wants to be in a position of defending a story that was wrong." Ahead of Monday's trial, a Times spokesperson said in a statement: "We published an editorial about an important topic that contained an inaccuracy. We set the record straight with a correction. We are deeply committed to fairness and accuracy in our journalism, and when we fall short, we correct our errors publicly, as we did in this case." No statement from Palin, who could take the case all the way to the Supreme Court if she loses here. (More Sarah Palin stories.)

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