Updated Feb 15, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Jury finds NYT not liable in Palin lawsuit day after judge said he'll dismiss case

Picture of Sarah Palin
Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

The New York Times was handed a small victory on Monday, after a New York district judge said he would dismiss a landmark defamation case brought against it by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

The latest: The jury unanimously found The Times not liable in the case on Tuesday, a day after Judge Jed S. Rakoff said Palin failed to prove the New York Times acted with "actual malice," per NPR's David Folkenflik.

  • Rakoff told the jury that he had already decided to dismiss the case as they deliberated. "You decided the facts, I decided the law; it turns out they were both in agreement, in this case," Rakoff said, per Folkenflik.

Why it matters: The verdict, which aligns with the district Judge's decision Monday to throw out the case, makes it much harder for Palin to win on appeal, legal experts say.

Be smart: In dismissing the case, the judge opens up the opportunity for Palin's legal team to appeal the jury's decision in an appellate court.

  • The jury was still deliberating when the judge made the announcement and is unaware of the decision. Rakoff said that because the case would likely go to appeal, he would allow the jury to continue deliberations.
  • Palin and her legal team sued The Times and its former editorial page editor James Bennet for libel, arguing they used "actual malice" in publishing an editorial that falsely linked her to a 2011 mass shooting.
  • Proving malice is a very high bar for defamation cases against public figures.
  • His decision, per Folkenflik, stemmed from the fact that the plaintiff failed to prove malice given that Bennet took actions to check and then correct the article after it was published.

Between the lines: Throughout the trial, The Times asserted that the inaccurate link made in the editorial was a mistake, while Palin's lawyers argued that the company's political bias resulted in a "reckless disregard" of the truth.

  • In closing arguments Friday, Palin's attorney Kenneth Turkel told the jury that while the newspaper corrected the editorial, it did not mention her name or explain how the error happened, which was "indicative of an arrogance and a sense of power that is uncontrolled, for which Governor Palin’s only remedy is to use our system here, the judicial system," per The Washington Post.
  • The Times' lawyer, David Axelrod, said the error was "an honest mistake that was made very quickly," adding that it was fixed less than 14 hours after publication.

The big picture: This is the first libel case against The Times to go to trial in the U.S. in two decades, per The Post. It's rare for a major American media company to have to defend its editorial practices before an American jury.

What to watch: Whether the decision from this landmark case impacts future defamation lawsuits. Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy said he was suing Insider and one of its writers last month over an article that alleged he took videos of women during sexual acts without their consent.

What's next: Palin has previously said that if she lost the case, she plans to consider asking the Supreme Court to reevaluate the verdict.

Go deeper: Appeals could keep Palin v. NYT going for months

Editor's note: This story has been update with the jury decision in the case.

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