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Photo Illustration: Sarah Palin is seeking retribution against the media in her ongoing defamation suit
Justine Goode; MSNBC / Getty Images

Sarah Palin seeks retribution against media in NYT defamation lawsuit

Legal experts have said the former Alaska governor's lawsuit over a 2017 New York Times editorial is a long shot. But Palin — who has targeted the press for years — is out for blood.


Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor who burst onto the national political scene as Sen. John McCain’s running mate for the 2008 presidential election, has a treacherous relationship with American news media

After her glasses, her public gaffes during interviews and speaking engagements are the most famous things about her:

Palin's 2008 interview with Katie Couric, in which Palin struggled to name which newspapers she reads to stay in the loop on current events, helped make her into a sympathetic figure on the right and spurred anti-media sentiment at Palin and McCain’s rallies. In the time since, Palin’s grown even more antagonistic to the media, even going as far as blaming the press for the Jan. 6 insurrection.

This is helpful background for understanding at least some of Palin’s motivation for filing a libel lawsuit against The New York Times, which resumed Thursday. A judge postponed the trial last week after Palin, who has proudly claimed she's not vaccinated against Covid-19, tested positive for the coronavirus.

Palin is hoping to inflict pain on an institution — journalism — that, with her help, made her into a punchline.

Palin is being represented by two lawyers who helped Terry Bollea (better known as Hulk Hogan) win a massive libel suit that bankrupted media outlet Gawker. There’s no mistaking that she’s entered this case looking for blood. 

Palin is suing the Times over a since-corrected 2017 editorial published after a shooter fired on lawmakers during a congressional baseball team practice. In the editorial, titled “America’s Lethal Politics,” the editorial board appeared to draw a connection between a 2011 shooting and promotional materials used by a Palin-linked group.

Here’s the excerpt in question: 

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 cross hairs.

The Times issued a correction shortly after, saying “no such link was established” between political rhetoric and the 2011 violence, but Palin sued the outlet regardless.

Legal experts have said Palin’s lawsuit is unlikely to succeed, as the hurdles for a public figure to prove they’ve been libeled are quite high. To win, she’d not only need to prove the Times’ claim was false, but also that the outlet operated with “actual malice” — that is, it published the claim knowing it was false. 

When the trial began Thursday, Palin’s lawyer Shane Vogt acknowledged winning the case would be an “uphill battle,” but even the potential for a Palin win is unnerving to supporters of the media. Conservatives like Palin, former President Donald Trump and Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas have all shown an interest in changing the libel laws to make it more possible to sue media outlets.

With this long-shot lawsuit, Palin is hoping to inflict pain on an institution — journalism — that, with her help, made her into a punchline.

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