It appeared as though we would finally see the media held accountable for lazy reporting.
The Sarah Palin defamation lawsuit against the New York Times was headed in the right direction by all signs.
However, after the jury left the courtroom to deliberate the case, the presiding judge tossed the case on lack of merit.
The report in question erroneously connected Sarah Palin to a Tucson, AZ, mass shooting in 2011.
The Times tried to connect the dots between Palin’s pro-gun comments to the shooting.
The strategy of the Times was clearly to claim ignorance and laziness for not properly vetting the article.
One editor even testified that the content had not been properly checked before the story went live.
By admitting the job was not properly done, the editor was trying to take the publication off the hook for malicious intent.
The verdict is far from being a lock for Palin, but the case should have been left up to the jury.
U.S. District Court Judge Jed Rakoff disagreed, dismissing the case outright.
Judge Rakoff stated, “The Supreme Court made that balance and set a very high standard, and I don’t think that standard has been realized by plaintiff with respect to at least one aspect of the actual malice requirement.
“I don’t think a reasonable juror could conclude that Mr. Bennet either knew the statements were false or that he thought the statements were false and he recklessly disregarded that high probability.”
He continued, “That places the burden very much on the plaintiff in these situations.
“In this case, the court finds that that standard has not been met.”
Rakoff did give the Times a slap on the wrist, stating, “Ms. Palin was subjected to an ultimately unsupported and very serious allegation that Mr. Bennet chose to revisit 7 years or so after the underlying events.
“I think this is an example of very unfortunate editorializing on the part of the Times but, having said that, that’s not the issue before this court.”
Even though the case was tossed, Rakoff anticipates an appeal to his decision, so he is allowing the jury to continue to deliberate.
He seems confident the jury will find in favor of the defendant, so he would like to see their verdict to help during an appeals process.
If the jury comes back in favor of Palin, however, he had planned on tossing the verdict.
There are already questions about why Rakoff decided to announce this before the jury came back with its decision.
It is a question of the news of his verdict getting out and influencing their decision.
Rakoff seemed confident that would not be the case, but it is hard to believe that this news would somehow not reach them on a multi-day deliberation where the jury is not sequestered.
Rakoff instructed the jury, “If you see anything in the media about this case, just turn away.”
Oh, yeah, that should work.
His decision to announce this early could give Palin recourse in the form of a mistrial if they can prove jurors found out about his decision before delivering their verdict.