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Sarah Palin testifies about Times editorial that linked her PAC map to deadly shooting: ‘I was powerless’

<i>Jane Rosenberg/Reuters</i><br/>Sarah Palin is questioned by NY Times lawyer David Axelrod during her defamation lawsuit trial against the New York Times
Jane Rosenberg/Reuters
Sarah Palin is questioned by NY Times lawyer David Axelrod during her defamation lawsuit trial against the New York Times

By Sonia Moghe, CNN

Sarah Palin testified Thursday that she felt “mortified” and lost sleep after the New York Times published an editorial incorrectly claiming there was a link between a map her political action committee had posted with crosshairs over congressional districts and the shooting that injured former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and killed six others.

“I was powerless. I didn’t have the political action committee up and running. I didn’t have any television contracts. I didn’t have that platform,” Palin testified.

The editorial in question was called “America’s Lethal Politics” and was published in 2017, on the day of the shooting at a baseball practice that injured Congressman Steve Scalise. It was meant to address heated political rhetoric ahead of the shooting, but it erroneously said that there was a “clear” link between a map that had crosshairs over congressional districts, including Giffords’, and the shooting that injured her. Former editorial page editor James Bennet testified that he added language about there being a clear link and that once he realized his error, he worked to quickly issue a correction.

Palin testified she felt the editorial “links me to inciting the murder of innocent people,” and that despite the correction, the mention of criticism over her political action committee’s crosshairs map still remained in the paper. Palin testified she did not reach out personally to the paper to ask for a correction, retraction or apology.

“They just accused me of inciting murder. I didn’t think I was going to get a friendly response,” Palin said.

Sarah PAC and the map

Palin testified that she has been busy in the years since she was thrust onto the national stage after becoming John McCain’s running mate in the 2008 Presidential Election. She had paid speaking engagements, written several books, television contracts with Fox News, and helped stump for and advise political candidates through Sarah PAC, her political action committee.

“It was a forum to have my voice heard,” Palin testified, of Sarah PAC.

When Sarah PAC circulated a map that put congressional districts represented by democrats under crosshairs, Palin testified the map “was to get people to be able to see what districts could probably be picked up.”

“You didn’t have any issue with the content on this flier, did you?” asked a New York Times attorney, David Axelrod.

“No,” Palin replied, saying later, “I took issue with the interpretation…that it was any kind of call for violence.”

It was not the first time that news outlets had insinuated the Sarah PAC map had a link to the Giffords shooter’s motives, Palin testified.

Shortly after the deadly shooting that left Giffords injured in 2011, Palin testified that other outlets began suggest incorrectly there was a link between the Sarah PAC map and the shooting.

Palin testified that she was no stranger to hate mail, which she said she’d been receiving since she was a Wasilla city councilwoman in her home state of Alaska, but after outlets began drawing connections between the crosshairs map and the shooting, Palin testified threats against her and her family increased.

“The death threats really ramped up,” Palin testified. “I feared for my family’s safety and my supporters’ safety.”

Axelrod asked Palin why she did not sue any media outlets or others who suggested her political action committee’s map had a link to the Giffords shooting back in 2011, and Palin testified she didn’t want to inject herself into the tragedy at the time.

Reputational harm

Palin said Thursday that she felt like she was fighting an uphill battle when she filed a lawsuit against the New York Times two weeks after it published the editorial.

“I was in Wasilla, up against those who buy ink by the barrel and I had my No. 2 pencil on my kitchen table,” Palin said.

Her suit claims she has suffered, among other things, reputational harm, and Palin testified that an influx of negative comments she received after its publication “was evidence of a reputation being changed.”

“After the editorial, things changed in terms of being called upon to advise,” Palin said.

But Axelrod pushed back, listing off speeches Palin has given at conferences and even a 2020 appearance on “The Masked Singer,” which Palin described as “the most fun 90 seconds of my life,” and conceded, “it paid some bills.”

Palin was coy when Axelrod asked if she planned to run for office, including for an Alaska senate seat.

“I’ve always said, ‘the door’s always open,'” Palin testified.

Palin also testified she suffered emotional harm, saying it was difficult to sleep after the Times editorial, but that she dealt with stress “holistically” by running and doing hot yoga.

Closing arguments are expected Friday afternoon, after which a jury is expected to be charged.

Palin is seeking damages for reputational harm.

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