Sarah Palin, the former 2008 Vice Presidential candidate and ex-Alaska governor, has filed a defamation lawsuit, seemingly out of the blue, against The New York Times . Is she trying to Gawker the newspaper with expensive litigation?
The Gawker lawsuit is one of the most infamous in modern journalism.
Hulk Hogan, a former professional wrestler and unabashed publicity hound, sued the Web site for invasion of privacy after Gawker published clips from a sex tape.
Hogan was the star with his best friend’s wife. Her husband and his best friend was doing the taping.
The case was heard in a local court in Hogan’s Florida hometown in front of a jury that was enamored by their local hero. The net result was a catastrophic loss for the Web site.
The case defied logic and reason, especially since most suits like that are settled out of court. But Hogan refused to settle and proceeded to trial like he had endlessly deep pockets.
And it turned out, he did.
Peter Thiel, the right wing gay Silicon Valley mogul, was secretly bankrolling Hulk’s case. He was grinding an ax against Gawker for revealing his sexual orientation in 2007 article posted in sister site ValleyWag.
Thiel spent an estimated $10 million in his secret vendetta and was reportedly also funding other lawsuits against Gawker, not to seek justice for wrongs, but to drive the company out of business.
Civil courts are really meant to be forums of last resort. They resolve legal grievances that can’t otherwise be resolved. But Thiel wasn’t about resolving grievances.
His actions may well be the biggest abuse of the judicial process in the nation’s history. It’s chilling effect on free speech so far is incalculable, but definitely real.
And, now possibly growing.
Palin is suing because a Times editorial drew a connection between one of her political action committee ads and the mass shooting that left then-Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords severely injured.
You may recall the ad. It put cross-hairs on congressional districts in the midst of a heated campaign that included daily threats of violence.
Palin asserts The Times’ article “violated the law and its own policies,” claiming it accused her of inciting the 2011 attack. The Times ran a clarification after the editorial was published.
But Palin filed suit in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, anyway, seeking a jury trial and damages, just like Hogan.
These tactics, of course, are right out of the 1950s Red Scare.
The courts have long established that there can be no more free passes for government officials in the media. Because of their vast power over ordinary citizens, their lives, both public and private are fair game for media scrutiny.
In the case of politicians and public figures like Palin, she must show that the media outlet published something that’s knowingly false in reckless disregard of the truth, with malicious intent.
Clearly, Palin’s situation doesn’t meet that test.
But the outcome of her case may mean nothing to her. The goal, like the Gawker case, may be to bleed The New York Times financially and hurt its ability to gather and report the news.
Clearly, the Gawker jurors were no scholars of the First Amendment. But in Manhattan, the jury pool will be another matter, and that’s encouraging.
Palin needs to disclose how she is financing this lawsuit, and the court needs to determine whether she is abusing the legal process to grind an ax against The New York Times, which Donald Trump regularly denigrates.
But the best scenario would be for the judge to send a clear message and toss this case where it belongs, in the trash can.