Sarah Palin’s Libel Claim Against The Times Is Rejected by a Jury

The editorial was published on June 14, 2017, the same day a gunman opened fire at a baseball field in Virginia where Republican congressmen were practicing, injuring several people, including Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana. The headline was “America’s Lethal Politics,” and the editorial asked whether the Virginia shooting was evidence of how vicious American politics had become. The Times corrected the editorial the morning after it was published after readers pointed out the mistake.

On the witness stand, Mr. Bennet, who inserted the erroneous wording into the article, testified that the incident had left him racked with guilt and that he had thought about it almost every day since. “It was just a terrible mistake,” he said.

Throughout the trial, Ms. Palin’s lawyers attempted to convince the jury that Mr. Bennet had acted out of animus toward her and, regardless of any contrition he later showed, made the error through a combination of carelessness and a willful overlooking of facts. Often, the evidence they produced in internal Times emails and the answers they elicited during a week of testimony painted an unflattering picture of the inner workings of the news organization.

The Times journalists involved in writing, editing and fact-checking the editorial testified about lapses and oversights they regretted. The original writer of the article said on the witness stand, for example, that she had not read very carefully the version Mr. Bennet rewrote. A fact checker said she had overlooked the line about political incitement that triggered Ms. Palin’s suit.

Times lawyers pointed to a series of steps taken by Mr. Bennet and others that they said demonstrated how seriously The Times had taken the issue upon learning about the mistake — including an email Mr. Bennet sent at 5 a.m. the morning after the editorial was published seeking to resolve the issue as soon as possible and the fact that once The Times published a correction it drew attention to it on social media.

The ruling on Monday by the judge, Jed S. Rakoff, came in response to a routine procedural motion by Times lawyers to rule in its favor, which defendants have a right to do after the plaintiff has presented all of its evidence to the jury. He found those claims by The Times convincing but also criticized the newspaper’s error as an example of “very unfortunate editorializing.”

His ruling also set up an awkward dynamic, coming as jurors were deliberating just down the hall from the courtroom. Though the judge instructed them not to read any media coverage of the trial, some legal experts criticized him for making public a decision that could have influenced their verdict if they had learned of it.

There were no immediate signs that had happened. The jury deliberated for roughly five hours on Tuesday before announcing its verdict just after 2:30 p.m.

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