News & Opinion | August 18, 2017 11:32 am

New York Times Opinion Editor Testifies in Palin Lawsuit

The former Alaska governor is suing for defamation.

dean baquet
The New York Times building in New York. (Wikipedia Commons)

The editor of the New York Times editorial page, James Bennet, testified on Wednesday in former Alaska governor Sarah Palin’s defamation lawsuit against the paper. He testified in a federal district court in Lower Manhattan that he did not consult the Times’ previously published columns and news reports before rewriting an editorial that said a political action committee associated with Palin had circulated a map that “showed crosshairs targeting several members of Congress” reports Politico

Federal District Judge Jed Rakoff requested the evidentiary hearing to determine whether or not even to allow Palin’s lawsuit to continue.

For a defamation case to proceed, the plaintiff must show that the Times committed “actual malice” by publishing the editorial. Through their questioning on Wednesday, Times lawyers tried to show that Bennet was pressed for time the day of the shooting and was unaware of both prior columns and news articles that contradicted the editorial.

The editorial in question linked Palin to the 2011 mass shooting in Arizona that injured former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and several others. The editorial was published in June after Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La.,  was shot during practice for the annual congressional baseball game in Virginia.

After the editorial was corrected, it stated that the committee “circulated a map that showed the targeted electoral districts of Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized cross hairs” reports Politico, but it removed the reference that said it had targeted individual members.

The New York Times issued a correction later. The paper also added a new sentence to the editorial, saying that “no connection to the shooting was ever established” between the PAC’s map and the shooting. However, Palin filed a lawsuit in June and is arguing that the Times had defamed her by publishing a statement they knew to be false: “that Mrs. Palin was responsible for inciting a mass shooting at a political event in January 2011,” reports Politico. 

Bennet has been the paper’s editorial page editor since April 2016. He was not the initial author of the editorial, but he rewrote the rough draft written by Times staffer Elizabeth Williamson.

According to Politico, Bennet said he and editorial board members wanted to focus attention on the horror of the day of the shooting and restate the Times editorial board’s position for advocating for “more sensible gun control laws and express concern about the state of political rhetoric in the country.”

Judge Rakoff also asked lawyers from both parties to submit briefs explaining what they thought this hearing added to the judge’s decision, which he is planning to make by the end of August.