Not Just An Unethical Statement, But An Unbelievable One: The New York Times

There’s nothing quite like starting the day with a head explosion.

A New York Times story today about the start of Sarah Palin’s libel suit against the New York Times—Conflict of interest? What conflict of interest?—contained this astounding statement:

The Times has denied those allegations, rebutting the notions that it would ever knowingly print something false…

The thrust of the Times objective, unbiased analysis of the lawsuit against the Times is that “Ms. Palin’s evidence is weak,” but she might win anyway, thus creating one more danger to democracy by weakening freedom of the press.

The evidence is weak? The Supreme Court decision in The New York Times Company v. Sullivan held that for public officials to prove defamation, they had to show not only that a news story was false and harmed their reputation, but that the story resulted from “actual malice,” involving printing a claim or allegation with “reckless disregard for the truth” or knowing it was false. Palin is suing because a Times editorial in 2017 stated that when Rep. Gabriel Giffords was shot by a lunatic in 2011, the crime had “clear[ly]“ been incited by a map circulated by  Palin’s political action committee showing 20 congressional districts that Republicans were hoping to win, including the one held by Giffords, labeled by stylized cross hairs.

This unconscionable smear, which at the time various pundits and journalists extended to Rush Limbaugh for his “eliminationist rhetoric,” was thoroughly debunked and discredited in many forums (including Ethics Alarms) six years before the Times pretended it was “clear.” There is absolutely no way the editors of the Times in 2017 were not aware of this. Drawing a causal connection between this map…

…and crazy Jared Loughner’s rampage was a vicious lie in 2011. By 2017, there was no possible explanation for it other than malice. There was never any evidence that Loughner had ever seen Palin’s map, nor was he a Republican. All of this was, by 2017, common knowledge and well-documented. How could the entire editorial board of the New York Times failing to check its “facts” be anything but reckless? Moreover, the Times hostility to Palin from her Vice-Presidential run in 2008 is a matter of record. A very strong case can and should be made that stating that Palin was in any way responsible for Giffords’ shooting constituted actual malice under Sullivan.

As for the risible claim that the Times would never knowingly publish anything false—well, res ipsa loquitur applies. Just for fun, I’m giving myself 30 seconds to find a counter example…


It took16 seconds to find this one:


The story, of course, is not about the U.S. deporting “immigrants,” but illegal immigrants. The Times deceit is intentional, as it has worked with illegal immigrant activists for years to deliberately blur the crucial distinction between legal immigrants, who are welcome here, and illegal immigrants, who should not be. This allows advocates for open borders to attack those who favor enforcing laws as “xenophobes” and racists.

Give me an hour, and I could find dozens of other examples of intentional falsity by the Times.

The Times quotes various professors and civil libertarians who express “concern” that a victory by Palin might pose a “risk to a free and impartial press is not only that it could be held liable for honest mistakes.”

What “impartial press”? “Honest mistakes”? Who are they kidding? All that is required to avoid defamation like what Palin suffered is for journalists and pundits to check their facts. Why is that an unreasonable burden on a free and impartial press? The Times gaslighting continues,

If public figures are no longer required to meet a high legal bar for proving harm from an unflattering article, press freedom advocates warn, journalists, especially those without the resources of a large news organization behind them, will self-censor.

Talk about equivocation! An editorial that states as fact that a public figure helped cause the shooting of a Congress woman isn’t merely “unflattering,” it is malicious.

6 thoughts on “Not Just An Unethical Statement, But An Unbelievable One: The New York Times

  1. For that matter, why are they printing it at all? Isn’t this the kind of thing that would be used against you in court? Don’t lawyers warn against doing this sort of thing?

  2. “If public figures are no longer required to meet a high legal bar for proving harm from an unflattering article,”
    Just a flat out lie as The NYT v. Sullivan shows.

    “press freedom advocates warn”

    Translation: the freedom to lie with impunity.

    Perhaps The NYT is looking to contaminate any potential jury pool?

  3. From another, newer NYT “news” piece – with more than a bit of editorializing:

    Sarah Palin Tests Positive, Delaying Libel Case Against The Times

    …It is uncommon for a defamation case against a major news organization like The Times to advance to the point that it reaches a jury. It is even less common for The Times to lose one of these cases — that has not happened in 50 years in an American court.

    The law offers robust protections to journalists and news outlets when a public figure like Ms. Palin accuses them of defamation. The Supreme Court has said that it is not enough for a public figure to prove that their reputation was damaged; the publisher of the damaging report must have acted with “actual malice” by either knowing the information was false or displaying a reckless disregard for the truth.

    But Ms. Palin’s lawyers have argued in court filings and in public that the law is too broad in shielding journalists from liability. The larger constitutional questions about the limits of press protections won’t come up in this trial, but they loom over the case, which is being watched closely by media organizations and First Amendment scholars….

  4. Perhaps American defamation law should be adjusted, to give plaintiffs more protection, closer to how Britain has it. Though I have read, in Britain, plaintiffs have it much easier in their cases, because they only have to prove that a reasonable person would not want to associate with them, etc. because of the the reputational harm from the defamation. Perhaps we could have reform, where you prove reputational harm (what that means we’ll have to figure out) and that the defamatory claim is false. See link for a short intro on the mechanics of British defamation law.

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