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Judge Says Sarah Palin ‘Failed to Prove Her Case’ Against The Times

A federal judge on Tuesday refuted Sarah Palin’s claims that The New York Times defamed her in a 2017 editorial, concluding in a written opinion that the case should be dismissed because she had “wholly failed to prove her case even to the minimum standard required by law.”

It was the latest development in a case that unfolded with unexpected twists last month, culminating with Ms. Palin’s motion for a new trial after several jurors said they had seen news reports of the judge’s unusual decision to announce that he was preparing to dismiss the case while they were still deliberating.

The judge, Jed S. Rakoff, rejected the suggestion that his announcement had compromised the integrity of the jury verdict, which also rejected Ms. Palin’s claims for lack of evidence. In his written opinion, he said he had a “definite conviction” in their decision.

Describing the jurors’ knowledge of his announcement as “unfortunate,” Judge Rakoff said they had nonetheless done what they were instructed to do and ignored the news. Further, he said, they insisted to his law clerk that the reports “played no role whatsoever in their deliberations and did not affect the outcome.”

As for the allegations in Ms. Palin’s suit — which she filed after The Times published an editorial that asserted a false link between her political rhetoric and a mass shooting in Arizona in 2011 — Judge Rakoff said the trial had produced no evidence that established the culpability of the news organization or its opinion editor at the time, James Bennet.

“While it may have been negligent for The Times to publish an article that could be read as making a serious accusation without checking if the accusation was true,” Judge Rakoff said, there is a critical difference between not knowing whether the statement in question is true and being highly aware that it is probably false.

To prove her case, Ms. Palin, a former Alaska governor and candidate for vice president, had to produce evidence that pointed to “actual malice” — the legal bar set by the Supreme Court for a public figure like her to prove defamation. That would mean either that The Times knew it was publishing false information or recklessly disregarded evidence despite harboring doubts about the truth.

Judge Rakoff said the actions of Times journalists — and Mr. Bennet, who edited the editorial, in particular — were consistent with newspaper journalists operating under deadline pressure, not with bad actors seeking to defame a politician. He noted trial testimony that Mr. Bennet had never intended to edit the piece, saying it undercut Ms. Palin’s accusation that Mr. Bennet harbored ill will toward her.

He also pointed to Mr. Bennet’s efforts to determine whether the editorial did in fact contain an error after a Times columnist alerted him to it late on the evening of its publication. According to evidence that jurors heard, Mr. Bennet tried to contact the writer of the editorial, asking her in a late-night text message, “Do we have it right?” But she had gone to bed. He then sent her an email at 5:08 a.m. seeking further clarification. The Times corrected the editorial later that morning.

Mr. Bennet also drafted an apology to Ms. Palin in response to a query from a CNN reporter about the editorial and sent it to a Times public relations executive, the judge noted. But that note was never forwarded to the reporter.

Explaining his decision to dismiss the case while the jury was still deliberating, Judge Rakoff said that as a matter of law “no reasonable jury could find that Sarah Palin proved” The Times had acted with “actual malice.”

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