Judge puts a big roadblock in Palin’s defamation lawsuit

A Manhattan federal court judge is preventing Sarah Palin’s lawyers from questioning 23 New York Times reporters, by suspending discovery in her defamation lawsuit against the paper.  The former Alaska governor filed the lawsuit, accusing the Times of writing a spurious editorial linking her to the shooting of former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords (D).

The 2011 shooting incident left eighteen people injured. Six of them died, and Giffords suffered a brain injury that creates speech problems and reduced vision in both eyes. The shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, had targeted Giffords.

Palin’s lawsuit concerns an opinion piece, written by the Times editorial board, which links the Giffords shooting to a political ad publicized by Palin. In the ad, Democratic districts in the midst of re-election battles were targeted by symbolic crosshairs. The ad featured the phrases, “It’s time to take a stand” and “Let’s take back the 20 [districts], together.”

The Times editorial board wrote:

“In 2011, Jared Lee Loughner opened fire in a supermarket parking lot, grievously wounding Rep. Gabby Giffords and killing six people, including a 9-year-old girl. At the time, we and others were sharply critical of the heated political rhetoric on the right.

“Before the shooting, Sarah Palin’s political action committee circulated a map that showed the targeted electoral districts of Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized cross hairs.”

Palin is claiming that the newspaper wrongly accused her of “inciting a mass shooting at a political event in January 2011,” according to court filings. Palin says the paper intentionally printed false information.

The Times editorial, published on June 14, was released the day after congressional members were targeted by a gunman during a baseball practice in Virginia. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) and three others were shot during the incident, and the shooter was an ardent supporter of failed presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

The Times received harsh criticism for the editorial, even getting a “false” rating for the piece by PolitiFact. They eventually issued a correction:

“An editorial on Thursday about the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise incorrectly stated that a link existed between political rhetoric and the 2011 shooting of Rep. Gabby Giffords. In fact, no such link was established.”

“The editorial also incorrectly described a map distributed by a political action committee before that shooting. It depicted electoral districts, not individual Democratic lawmakers, beneath stylized cross hairs.”

Although the Times issued the correction, it never removed the editorial. They say they made an “honest mistake,” and they’ve asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit.

Judge Jed Rakoff will make a ruling by the end of the month as to whether Palin’s suit will proceed. In the meantime, his ruling suspending discovery effectively stops Palin’s lawyers from grilling nearly two dozen Times reporters, whose statements they planned to use to prove the paper was biased against Palin.

Palin’s lawyers aim to find “documents that might reveal, among other things, their negative feelings’ toward her,” according court papers.

Reportedly, Palin is using the same legal team that successfully represented Hulk Hogan, or Terry Bollea, against Gawker Media, in a defamation suit.

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