It appears today will be the last day of the trial with both sides being given two hours for closing arguments. Yesterday Sarah Palin testified on the stand for a few hours and according to both the Washington Post and Slate, her testimony fell apart a bit.
When Palin was asked about the accusations that proliferated in the immediate wake of that 2011 shooting—accusations falsely suggesting that she had helped incite the violence—she said they were “mortifying, because I knew what the truth was.” She remembered that she, and her children, had received many death threats around that time.
I admit, at this point in her testimony, I was a little impressed. Palin in no way resembled the caricature I had in my head. She was confident, articulate, and—somewhat to my surprise—quite lucid…
Palin’s own attorney asked her to shift her focus forward from 2011 to 2017, when a New York Times editorial revived that false connection between Palin’s rhetoric and the Giffords shooting (thereby provoking this lawsuit). Palin responded by saying the Times had “lied” about it “again.” A lawyer for the Times objected, for obvious reasons: No one—including Palin in her filed complaint—has ever alleged that the New York Times got this wrong on any other occasion aside from that one editorial.
Palin’s lawyer tried to help her clean it up. Judge Jed S. Rakoff invited her to clarify what she meant. But Palin doubled down, saying, “My view was the Times took a lot of liberties” in the wake of the Giffords shooting and that the paper had “led the charge” against her back then. Confused looks sprouted on everyone’s faces.
Both Slate and the Post write as if Palin made a big avoidable mistake here. It’s true that this case is only about the one instance in 2017 when a NY Times’ editorial wrongly claimed her PAC had incited a mass shooting. To my knowledge, no one at the Times had ever been careless enough to say that outright before. So by saying they made this mistake “again” she did open herself to an objection. But eventually the judge and the lawyers for each side held a sidebar and when they came out of it they just moved on as if nothing had happened.
My own take on the situation is a bit more nuanced. Palin is not wrong that the NY Times had published material speculating that her map could be connected to the shooting long before any facts were known. Yesterday I pointed out the blog post which Paul Krugman wrote the day of the shooting:
A Democratic Congresswoman has been shot in the head; another dozen were also shot.
We don’t have proof yet that this was political, but the odds are that it was. She’s been the target of violence before. And for those wondering why a Blue Dog Democrat, the kind Republicans might be able to work with, might be a target, the answer is that she’s a Democrat who survived what was otherwise a GOP sweep in Arizona, precisely because the Republicans nominated a Tea Party activist. (Her father says that “the whole Tea Party” was her enemy.) And yes, she was on Sarah Palin’s infamous “crosshairs” list.
Krugman is careful to not say Palin’s map incited the shooting but he is leaving that door open. “We don’t have prof yet that this was political, but the odds are that it was,” he wrote. And Palin’s “infamous” map is the last thing he mentions in that paragraph. Within a couple hours of the shooting, he’s clearly suggesting there could be a connection. That’s not the same as saying there definitely is a connection but he’s pointing readers in the direction of what and who might be to blame.
The Times editorial board was even more careful. In their first editorial on the subject the next day, they admitted that Jared Loughner appeared “mentally ill” and therefore beyond ordinary political categories. Nevertheless, the Times sought to connect him to the “gale of anger” which they blamed on Republicans.
It is facile and mistaken to attribute this particular madman’s act directly to Republicans or Tea Party members. But it is legitimate to hold Republicans and particularly their most virulent supporters in the media responsible for the gale of anger that has produced the vast majority of these threats, setting the nation on edge.
This is the little two step that the Times and other outlets did at the time. First they admit that Loughner’s actions were not recognizably political and then they argue the right’s rhetoric is out of hand and making everyone crazy. It’s a neat trick in which they simultaneously admit there’s no connection between the right and the immediate violence people are upset about and then do their best to channel that upset and direct it at the right anyway.
And at the center of that maelstrom of left-wing outrage over right-wing rhetoric was Sarah Palin. The Times didn’t need to name her because her name was everywhere. All they really had to do was argue that the right’s behavior was out of hand and people knew who to blame. In case you think I’m not remembering accurately or projecting my current feelings backwards on this 2011 editorial, here’s how some of the Times‘ left-wing readers responded to that first editorial at the time it was written:
- I hope that Sarah Palin will now reduce her inflamed political rhetoric like “reload” and putting rifle cross hairs on the political maps of democratic districts. Palin deserves a large share of the blame for the hatred and intolerance in this country right now.
- You’ve heard of lawless tribal areas, Pakistan, & Afghanistan. Now here’s ARIZONISTAN. Palin 2012.
- The one person, in my opinion, more than any other in America, responsible for orchestrating this incessant chorus of hatred is Rupert Murdoch…If he truly cares about America and has any remorse for Fox’s contribution to this poisonous political climate, he should fire Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin.
- This tragedy is the result of relentless barrage of hatred, anger, and intolerance let loose by those who consider themselves to be on the political Right. Palin, Beck, Limbaugh, the folks at Fox News, the Tea Party Activists and many GOP politicians are responsible for ratcheting up the rhetoric of hatred.
- Palin is a shallow, vindictive, petty and just a lousy person. We’ll know this is true when she refuses to acknowledge that maybe her cross-hairs ad and “lock and load” comment were inappropriate to robust civil discourse.
- No one is accusing Sarah Palin of masterminding the assasination attempt of Gabrielle Giffords, but, Sarah Palin IS the face of incendiary speech and the symbol of “bigotry and prejudice” in our political system and national psyche. Mrs. Palin’s “attack” and “TARGETING ad has now become the lingering memory of Saturday’s massacre in Tucson.
- He killed innocent men, women and children, all decent people, while trying to kill a Democratic servant of America. Good going Tea Partyers. Good Going Palin, you fraud.
- Will there be actions? Will Sarah Palin in light of the events in Tucson consider apologizing for the map with the rifle scopes aimed at the districts of some specific members of Congress?
- yes, Sarah Palin is responsible, not as an individual who singlehanedly set this crazy man off, but for shamelessly piling on and greedily pursuing fame and fortune by inflaming people into a rage over her phoney made up issues.
- Sarah Palin has blood on her hands. Her prayers for Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims are cynical and offensive. Was she thinking when she stirred up hatred against those whom she opposed, or did she just not care. Either way, she easily deserves the scorn of all decent folk.
I could keep going but you get the idea. Again, all of these comments are in response to the Times‘ first editorial about the shooting on Jan. 9, 2011, an editorial which never mentioned Sarah Palin by name. The Times didn’t have to name her in order to generate this reaction because her name was already at the center of the media whirlwind.
So when Palin says the Times took a lot of liberties and “led the charge” against her, I don’t doubt that it felt that way. If the comments above are representative of what many on the left took away from the Times’ first editorial on this subject, many saw it as an indictment of Sarah Palin in particular.