Team Sarah Palin disclosed its disdain for the New York Times went beyond the error at the heart of her libel lawsuit during closing arguments in the case Friday.
The Times’ former editorial board editor, James Bennet, published a fallacy about Palin for which he never directly apologized, “indicative of an arrogance and a sense of power that’s uncontrolled,” charged Ken Turkel, a lawyer for the GOP firebrand and ex-Alaska governor.
“An entity as large as the New York Times controls every aspect of this dialogue,” Turkel said.
In his summation, Times lawyer David Axelrod told jurors the error had nothing to do with Bennet or the paper’s feelings on Palin. He said it was an honest mistake that the news organization has fully acknowledged since 14 hours after publishing it.
Of tremendous importance, said Axelrod, was that the case concerned the freedom of the press.
“The First Amendment provides legal protection to journalists and newspapers like Mr. Bennet, like the New York Times, who make an honest mistake when they write about a person like Sarah Palin,” said Axelrod.
Palin says the June 14, 2017 editorial, “America’s Lethal Politics,” defamed her by inaccurately linking incendiary literature produced by her political action committee with a mass shooter’s motivations.
Turkel, who must prove to the jury the Times acted with “actual malice” by printing the error, said Bennet “reverse engineered” writer Elizabeth Williamson’s original draft, which focused on gun policy, to push a political narrative when he edited her piece.
But Axelrod urged the panelists to carefully read the editorial when they got back to the jury room, which he said was clearly not the result of a politically-motivated conspiracy to bring down Palin.
“Read the entire thing because what you’re bound to find is that Governor Palin’s involvement in that editorial is almost a footnote. The editorial’s not about her. It’s about the shooting of the day — it’s about that ‘pattern’ for two paragraphs. It’s about gun violence, and then it ends with praising Donald Trump,” Axelrod said.
“This piece that was supposedly anti-Republican and anti-Governor Palin ends by praising Donald Trump for saying just the right things.”
The Times published the editorial after an Alexandria, Va. mass shooting at a congressional baseball practice that grievously wounded Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.).
Pointing to gunman James Hodginkson’s support for Bernie Sanders and contempt for Donald Trump, the editorial said heated political rhetoric could lead to real-world violence.
It then referenced a 2011 shooting at an event for former Rep. Gabby Giffords in Tucson, Ariz., and wrote “the link to political incitement was clear” when Jared Lee Loughner killed six people, including a little girl, in that incident.
The Times’ editorial said that before the shooting, Palin’s PAC published a map with stylized crosshairs over Democrats, including Giffords. But the graphic actually featured crosshairs over electoral districts, not politicians. And there was no evidence Loughner, who was profoundly mentally ill, had ever seen it.
Jurors deliberated for about two hours before going home for the day. Deliberations resume Monday.