'Hard to Find' Truth? NY Times Documents in Court Case Show Reckless Smear of Palin's PAC

Washington Post media blogger Erik Wemple reported on Monday that New York Times documents submitted in response to Sarah Palin’s defamation lawsuit show that editors juiced up the first draft of a June 14 editorial on "America's Lethal Politics" submitted by editorial writer Elizabeth Williamson.

Wemple pulled out the key lines in Williamson’s draft:

That in 10 miutes a single gunman could wreak such carnage in a bedroom community a short distance from the Capitol is horrifying, but no longer surprising. Not all the details are known yet, but a sickeningly familiar pattern is emerging: a deranged individual with a gun – perhaps multiple guns – and scores of rounds of ammunition uses politics as a pretense for a murderous shooting spree. Mr. Hodgkinson was a Bernie Sanders supporter and campaign volunteer virulently opposed to President Trump, who among many anti-Trump messages posted “Time to Destroy Trump & Co.” on social media in March.

Just as in 2011, when Jared Lee Loughner opened fire in a supermarket parking lot, grievously wounding Rep. Gabby Giffords and killing six people, including a nine-year-old girl, Mr. Hodgkinson’s rage was nurtured in a vile political climate. Then, it was the pro-gun right being criticized: in the weeks before the shooting Sarah Palin’s political action committee circulated a map of targeted electoral districts that put Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized crosshairs.

That's wrong: the Palin map targeted districts, not faces of people. Wemple noted the edited version of the editorial went much, much further:

Was this attack evidence of how vicious American politics has become? Probably. In 2011, when Jared Lee Loughner opened fire in a supermarket parking lot, grievously wounding Representative Gabby Giffords and killing six people, including a 9-year-old girl, the link to political incitement was clear. Before the shooting, Sarah Palin’s political action committee circulated a map of targeted electoral districts that put Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized cross hairs.

Wemple summarized: “So: Williamson goofed on the crosshairs matter but otherwise produced a careful bit of writing that squared with the New York Times’s editorial position on gun control. Through the editing process, it acquired a naked allegation about Palin’s PAC, one that had been debunked years back.”

The press laws established in New York Times v. Sullivan require the demonstration that journalists showed "actual malice" in their dishonesty, that they knew their writing was false. So journalists try to get around that line by claiming they were uninformed. That should be a deeply embarrassing argument, but it works in court.

As media reporter Sydney Ember of the Times blandly reported on page B-5 (not B-1, when the Times is suggesting Trump is inciting violence against journalists): "Mr. Bennet testified that he did not recall reading, or had not read, articles that dismissed the connection between Ms. Palin's political activities and the shooting before the editorial was published."

''I did not intend and was not thinking of it as a causal link to the crime,'' Mr. Bennet said. During cross-examination, he said he did not know if Mr. Loughner had seen the map and ''did not know if the map incited him to his conduct.''

Here's where you shake your head and remember the Times advertisements branding themselves with the lines "The truth is hard to find" and "The truth is more important now than ever." It's apparently incredibly hard to find when it comes to Sarah Palin.


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