At the New York Times trial, the former governor was impressive at first. It didn’t last.
Sarah Palin took the stand Thursday morning—on day six of her libel trial against the New York Times—clad in a black pencil skirt, cream boucle blazer, and megawatt smile. She delivered dollops of down-home charm. She was, at first, a compelling witness.
When she spoke about the deceased victims of the 2011 mass shooting that badly wounded then-Rep. Gabby Giffords, Palin was careful to say their full names and to convey the sadness she felt when she thought of their grieving families. She recalled that the 9-year-old girl who was murdered that day had been around the same age as her daughter Piper. In the courtroom, she displayed some of the gifts that had made her, for a time, a political sensation.
Then, about a half hour in, the wheels came off.
Palin’s own attorney asked her to shift her focus forward from 2011 to 2017, when a New York Times editorial revived that false connection between Palin’s rhetoric and the Giffords shooting (thereby provoking this lawsuit). Palin responded by saying the Times had “lied” about it “again.” A lawyer for the Times objected, for obvious reasons: No one—including Palin in her filed complaint—has ever alleged that the New York Times got this wrong on any other occasion aside from that one editorial.
Palin’s lawyer tried to help her clean it up. Judge Jed S. Rakoff invited her to clarify what she meant. But Palin doubled down, saying, “My view was the Times took a lot of liberties” in the wake of the Giffords shooting and that the paper had “led the charge” against her back then.
When a lawyer for the Times cross-examined Palin, he first asked whether that initial round of false accusations, back in 2011, had in fact hurt her reputation much. She acknowledged that she continued to make appearances on Fox News, and even signed a new contract with the network in 2013. She was also the featured character in multiple reality television shows.
As a public figure, Palin will have to convince the jury that the Times acted with “actual malice” (either a reckless disregard for the truth or awareness of something being false) in order to win.
By contrast, the paper insists, it worked quickly to address the unwitting error after realizing what happened. (More)