The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution does not protect defamation, but the requirements that speech must meet in order to qualify as defamation are very specific, and even more so for public figures. The primary objective of the First Amendment is to allow citizens (and especially the press) to speak freely about public figures in order to keep the public informed on what their elected officials and candidates are doing.
In June of this year, a gunman opened fire at a baseball stadium where Republican Congressmen were practicing for a charity baseball game. In an effort to write an editorial on the event and get it published quickly enough so as to still be relevant, the New York Times made some factual errors, but it quickly corrected them and apologized afterwards.
In trying to make a point about the level of hostility between the two political parties, James Bennet, the author of the editorial, mentioned the 2011 mass shooting conducted by Jared Loughner, which left Representative Gabrielle Giffords severely wounded. Bennet also mentioned a map of targeted electoral districts that Sarah Palin’s political action committee had previously circulated.
Palin promptly sued Bennet and the New York Times in New York federal court for defamation, claiming the editorial incorrectly connected her with the mass shooting, even though the publication she had no connection to the gunman, as the newspaper had previously said so in other articles it had published. Continue reading