I saw today that Sarah Palin’s defamation lawsuit against the New York Times has been pushed back to February 3 because the former Alaska governor and vice-presidential candidate has tested positive for COVID-19. The U.S. District Judge overseeing the case remarked dryly, “She is, of course, unvaccinated.”
That’s hardly a surprise since Palin declared in December, “It’ll be over my dead body that I’ll have to get a shot.”
Her defamation case relates to an op-ed the New York Times editorial board ran in 2011 after Rep.Gabrielle Giffords was horribly injured and nearly killed in a mass shooting in Arizona. I wrote at the time that “Palin is too dumb to understand why she’s been criticized for putting crosshairs on a congresswomen who later got shot in the face.” That was a reference to the SarahPAC political action committee, which had produced a graphic placing 20 Democrats, including Giffords in crosshairs, basically targeting them for defeat. Many people, including the NYT’s editorial board, made an immediate connection when Giffords was subsequently attacked, but there was never any proof that the shooter was motivated by the SarahPAC image. For this reason, the Times issued a correction three days after the publication of their piece.
While Palin’s case was initially dismissed, an appeals court ruled in her favor, saying “Palin’s Proposed Amended Complaint plausibly states a claim for defamation and may proceed to full discovery.” I’m not a lawyer but I acknowledge that she may have a decent case.
On the other hand, this is a good opportunity to see what my take on the controversy was at the time. In January 2011, I wrote Pointing Fingers and Violent Rhetoric, and I’m going to provide and extensive excerpt from it below. I think it’s instructive to think about the Palin/Giffords incident in the context of what happened a decade later, on January 6, 2021.
The right-wing has been really stung by the massacre in Arizona and the criticism they’ve taken for contributing to an environment where such violence actually makes sense. They keep pumping out columns that seek to vindicate themselves and lay blame on the left for jumping to conclusions about the motivations of the shooter. The president asked us to stop pointing fingers and trying to assign blame. We all know that is not going to happen, but we could try honoring his wishes in this case out of respect for the victims and deference to the president’s wisdom and leadership. We could try, but first one thing needs to be made clear.
If it had turned out that the shooter had begun planning this atrocity the moment he received an email from Sarah Palin’s PAC that included crosshairs on his congresswomen, we wouldn’t have anything to debate, would we? If he said that he voted for Giffords’s opponent but after they lost he felt the need to take Sharron Angle’s advice and resort to a 2nd Amendment remedy, we wouldn’t be talking about whether the left’s criticism was off mark.
This isn’t a case of me saying that if we were right, we wouldn’t be wrong. What I’m saying is that the left has been complaining about the rhetoric from the right for a very long time because that rhetoric hints at violence, rationalizes violence, and sometimes openly advocates violence. How does it hint at violence? If the president isn’t a U.S. citizen, if he used ACORN to steal the election, then what is a patriot to do? Do we just let an illegitimate president continue serving or do we take some kind of action to correct this insult? Likewise, how should a patriot react to a president who is trying to turn this country in a Soviet Socialist Republic? Didn’t Thomas Jefferson say the following?
“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure”
If half of what the Republicans say about the president and the Democrats were true, we should rise up and kill them all as a minimum down payment on proving our love of country. So, I don’t give a crap whether the guy in Arizona was motivated listening to Sarah Palin or Sharron Angle. The problem is so much bigger than one incident, even if that incident had a lot of casualties. Glenn Beck alone has inspired three thwarted assassination attempts, including the planned attack on the ACLU and Tides Foundation offices in San Francisco. That’s just one shock-jock with a television program.
So, what’s my point? Stop saying things that make murder seem like a logical step, or a patriotic step, or a morally justifiable step. Stop doing things that endanger public officials and even innocent bystanders. After all, the fact that the shooter may not have been influenced by Sarah Palin’s crosshairs is not exculpatory in the least. The fact that the right thinks that they can avoid responsibility for their actions by appealing to the motivations of the shooter just shows how little they understand about the criticism being leveled at them. Based on the rhetoric of the right, we have to wonder why they didn’t applaud the Arizona massacre. That’s the logic they’ve created and the message they’ve been sending.
How many of the January 6 insurrectionists have stated that they truly believed that the election was rigged and that they were doing their patriotic duty to protect the Constitution? I begged the Republicans to stop deceiving their voters in 2011 because it was clear that their rhetoric logically justified violence. But they don’t listen to my advice or pleas, and after another 10 years of marinating their base’s brains in a vat of toxic nonsense, we got a violent assault on Congress and an effort to destroy democracy in favor of dictatorship.
And, Palin, who really started the turn to complete nonsense for the GOP, is still with us, and still spewing deadly nonsense to the Republican base. She may survive her unvaccinated bout with COVID-19, but others who listened to her will not. Can she blamed for the deaths in a newspaper without creating grounds for a defamation case? I don’t really give a crap. She’s never cared if her words or actions get people killed. It’s actually the basis for her political appeal.