New York Times wins dismissal of Sarah Palin's defamation lawsuit

(Reuters) - A lawsuit against the New York Times by former U.S. vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who claimed the newspaper had defamed her in an editorial linking her to a 2011 mass shooting, was dismissed by a federal judge on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: People line up for taxi across the street from the New York Times head office in New York, February 7, 2013. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff in Manhattan said that while the June editorial may have contained errors, it was not plausible those errors were made maliciously, which a public figure like Palin must prove to win a defamation lawsuit.

“Negligence this may be; but defamation of a public figure it plainly is not,” Rakoff wrote in his 26-page decision.

Lawyers for Palin could not immediately be reached for comment.

Palin, the former Alaska governor who was Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s running mate in an unsuccessful 2008 campaign, sued the Times in June, seeking in excess of $75,000 in damages.

The lawsuit concerned a June 14 editorial about a shooting at a Virginia baseball field that injured four people including U.S. Representative Steve Scalise, the No. 3 House Republican.

The editorial sought to link that shooting to a trend of political violence, recalling a shooting in Arizona in 2011 by Jared Lee Loughner that targeted U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and killed six people.

Before that shooting, the editorial said, Sarah Palin’s political action committee circulated a map that “put Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized crosshairs.”

The newspaper subsequently issued a series of corrections, saying no link had been established between political rhetoric and Loughner’s actions. It also corrected its description of the map, saying it depicted electoral districts, not Giffords and individual Democratic lawmakers, beneath crosshairs.

James Bennet, the editor of the New York Times editorial board, testified at a hearing earlier this month he did not look at the map or extensively review the Times’ coverage of the 2011 shooting while editing the article.

However, Rakoff ruled on Tuesday, that was not enough to establish Bennet wrote the editorial knowing it was false, or with reckless disregard for its falsity, as Palin would have to prove.

Holding public figures to that standard in defamation cases, the judge said, was necessary “if political journalism is to achieve its constitutionally endorsed role of challenging the powerful.”

Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli