Former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s lawyer said Thursday that “facts didn’t matter” to The New York Times (NYT) during the defamation trial’s opening statements.
Palin sued the newspaper over a 2017 editorial that linked her political action committee’s rhetoric to a 2011 mass shooting in which six people killed and former Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others were injured in Tucson, Arizona.
“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,” the piece stated. “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.”
Shane Vogt, Palin’s attorney, contended during his opening statement that The NYT ignored the facts of the incident and assumed, without evidence, that the shooter had political motivations, the New York Post reported. He accused then-editorial page editor James Bennet of having an agenda behind the piece’s reporting.
“The facts didn’t matter,” Vogt said. “That’s what the evidence here will show.”
“No evidence he [the shooter] was politically motivated,” he added, according to the outlet. “It was an assumption. Bennet had his narrative and he stuck to it.”
Sarah Palin’s defamation suit against the NYT went to trial today.
The fight’s over two sentences of an editorial published four years ago, which were corrected after roughly 12 hours.
“That’s why we’re here,” NYT’s lawyer told the jury.
— Adam Klasfeld (@KlasfeldReports) February 3, 2022
Vogt told the jury that the former vice presidential candidate is not asking for their political support, but rather that they recognize the newspaper’s “reckless disregard” for the truth. (RELATED: Sarah Palin Suing The New York Times For Defamation)
David Axelrod, an attorney for The NYT, countered in his own opening statement, saying Bennet and other NYT journalists made an unintentional mistake and corrected it the following day, the NY Post reported. He said Bennett consciously intended to avoid writing a politically one-sided piece, according to Business Insider.
“Bennett and the board were especially conscious of not writing a one-sided piece,” Axelrod said. “The goal is to hold both political parties accountable. The political left and the political right — they are both responsible for inflammatory rhetoric unnecessarily demonizing the political enemies.”
He also pointed to an email written by columnist Ross Douthat confronting Bennett on the piece’s unfair stance in connecting Palin’s political action committee to the shooting. NYT columnists Bret Stephens and Charles Blow admitted in two separate columns in June 2017 that there was a lack of evidence linking the mass shooting to Palin.
Despite Palin’s claims of defamation, Axelrod further argued the editorial caused no harm to her, the NY Post reported.
Elizabeth Williamson, who wrote the first draft of the editorial with no mention of Palin, was the first witness called to the stand by Vogt, according to Business Insider. Bennet added it into the piece before publication, the outlet reported.
Attorneys representing both parties delivered their opening statements in Manhattan federal court over a week late due to Palin testing positive for COVID-19, the NY Post reported.
Palin and Bennett both intend to testify in the trial, according to Business Insider. The former vice presidential candidate told reporters outside the courthouse that she seeks justice from the newspaper.
“What am I trying to accomplish? Justice, for people who expect the truth in the media,” she stated, according to Reuters.
It is uncommon for a public figure’s libel lawsuit to reach the trial stage. Because Palin is one, her counsel must prove The NYT acted with “actual malice,” a standard set in the Supreme Court case New York Times v. Sullivan, to win the lawsuit, Business Insider reported.