Palin to resume court battle with Times after COVID illness

By Tom Hays
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK (AP) – Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is due back Thursday in a New York City courtroom more than a week after the start of a trial in her libel lawsuit against The New York Times was postponed because she tested positive for COVID-19.

The trial is to begin in the morning in federal court in Manhattan where Palin will be the star witness. She’s seeking unspecified damages based on claims that an editorial in the Times hurt her budding career as a political commentator.

A judge put off the trial last week to give an unvaccinated Palin time to get over any possible symptoms. Away from court, she caused a stir by being sighted dining out at an upscale Manhattan restaurant twice, both shortly before and after her positive test results were made public.

Palin, 57, has publicly said she won’t get a shot.

The Republican’s defamation case survived an initial dismissal that was reversed on appeal in 2019, setting the stage for a rare instance that a major news organization will have to defend itself against libel claims involving a public figure.

Palin sued the Times in 2017, accusing it of damaging her reputation with an editorial about gun control published after Louisiana U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, also a Republican, was wounded when a man with a history of anti-GOP activity opened fire on a Congressional baseball team practice in Washington.

In the editorial, the Times wrote that before the 2011 mass shooting in an Arizona supermarket parking lot that severely wounded former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords and killed six others, Palin’s political action committee circulated a map of electoral districts that put Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized crosshairs.

In a correction two days later, The Times said the editorial had “incorrectly stated that a link existed between political rhetoric and the 2011 shooting” and that it had “incorrectly described” the map.

The disputed wording had been added to the editorial by James Bennet, then the editorial page editor. At trial, a jury would have to decide whether he acted with “actual malice,” meaning that he knew what he wrote was false, or with “reckless disregard” for the truth.

Bennet has said he believed the editorial was accurate when it was published.