Truth in Our Times: Inside the Fight for Press Freedom in the Age of Alternative Facts by David E. McCraw

Truth in Our Times: Inside the Fight for Press Freedom in the Age of Alternative Facts by David E. McCraw

Author:David E. McCraw
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: All Points Books
Published: 2019-03-12T00:00:00+00:00

Social media lit up minutes after the piece went live. There was no proof that Loughner had ever seen the Palin campaign ad, which showed Giffords’s congressional district in crosshairs. The sentence referring to “incitement as direct as in the Giffords attack” became a lightning rod. Editors at The Times quickly concluded that they needed to fix the piece. The next morning The Times published a correction and revised the language of the editorial. Thirteen days after the editorial came out, Palin filed a libel suit claiming that her reputation had been sullied and that she had been financially damaged by The Times’s piece.

Whatever the merits of the case, the fact that Sarah Palin, a darling of the Trump movement, was suing The New York Times, that bastion of all things liberal, was too rich of a story line for anyone to ignore, on the right or on the left. The right saw their champion giving The Times its long-overdue comeuppance. Palin had just been photographed wandering the halls of the White House with Kid Rock, mocking a portrait of Hillary Clinton. On the other end of the political spectrum, it was taken as further evidence that Trump’s cronies were intent on lashing and silencing The Times with burdensome lawsuits, envisioning a world in which Fox News was ascendant, one more step on the path to the complete Foxification of America.

The judge, Jed Rakoff of the Southern District of New York, had other ideas. He dismissed the case, finding that Palin could not credibly allege that The Times had acted with reckless disregard of the truth in making the error, the standard that Palin needed to meet as a public figure. As Rakoff saw it, the notion that The Times had intentionally published a falsehood about Palin made little sense, not when the correction came so quickly, when The Times in a news article—on the very same day—reported that there was no evidence linking the shooter Loughner to the Palin political ad, when no reasonable person could have thought that a misstatement about Palin in a paper as closely read and critiqued as The Times would slide by unnoticed. It looked to the court more like an honest mistake, and Palin would need to show more than that if she hoped to win her case.

Palin appealed and in 2018 the case continues to wend its way through the federal court system. Meanwhile, the Murray suit was settled without payment.

As it turned out, after getting those first three libel cases, the old calm returned, at least for the time being. Over the rest of the year, only one more libel suit was filed, more or less par for the course, a case brought by a Florida professor with strong objections to a story we had done two years earlier about his involvement in the controversy over genetically modified food.

Trend or no trend, Trump himself was still in the defamation lawsuit game in 2017. Just not in the way you would expect.


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