Posted on July 14, 2017
The Times’ pathetic excuse for slander
By now, everyone is familiar with the phrase, “fake news,” which was first used by the mainstream media to refer to internet hoaxsters, but has since been turned on them by President Trump, about whom their coverage has often been wildly inaccurate. Less attention is paid to the more pervasive problem of assumed news, in which the media reference things that they just assume to be true, without having challenged their assumptions with so much as a simple keyword search.
A prime example of this can be seen in The New York Times’ response to a defamation lawsuit filed against them by former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. In a June 14th editorial ostensibly about the shooting of Republican congressman Steve Scalise, the Times repeated the famously debunked assertion that Jared Loughner, who shot Democrat congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in 2011, was inspired by Palin’s “heated political rhetoric.” The editorial claimed that Palin’s political action committee had released a map with Giffords, among other politicians, in crosshairs like those seen through the scope of a rifle.
In fact, Palin’s map had only put the crosshairs on political districts, to signify that they were being “targeted” for defeat. Furthermore, the former Alaska governor would have been the last person to hold sway over Loughner, a drug-addled, misogynistic, anti-religious 9/11 “truther,” who despised George W. Bush, fantasized about killing policemen, and wanted the phrase “In God We Trust” removed from our currency.
While Loughner’s politics tended to be Leftist, he was so generally detached from reality that it wouldn’t be responsible to implicate anybody but himself in his actions. His writings reveal an obsession with “conscious dreaming,” a state of consciousness in which a person is supposedly able to control his dreams, as if he were directing and starring in his own movie. Acquaintances worried that he had been living in “alternative realities” and “dream worlds.” He attended one of Giffords’ Q&A sessions, at which he spilled the following blender full of unrelated question parts: “If words could not be understood, then what does government mean?” Her failure to recognize the brilliance of this evidently infuriated him.
This may sound like an open-and-shut case in Palin’s favor, except that it is extremely difficult for a public figure to win a defamation case, because of the need to prove malice by the offending party. The burden is on Palin to demonstrate not only that the accusation was false, but that the Times knew it was false, and printed it with the specific intention of harming her. Making it even harder is that the Times is actually using its malice as an excuse for its behavior, and somewhat convincingly so.
The Times editors are calling their baseless claims an “honest mistake,” but there’s only one way for that to be plausible. They remembered the original accusation that had been made against Palin, and just assumed it to be true. They probably ignored the facts about the Giffords shooting at the time, and couldn’t be bothered to look them up before publishing their op-ed. So, yes, they’re malicious, but they didn’t knowingly print what was untrue; hence, there’s no defamation.
As in this case, assumed news generally doesn’t involve recent events, but instead reinforces liberal narratives about the past, especially by painting unflattering pictures of people liberals hate. The Times editorial isn’t the first time Palin has been smeared with Giffords’ shooting, nor will it be the last. More responsible editors facetiously refer to such a story as “too good to check.” News consumers repeatedly read such a claim, or hear it on TV, and naturally accept it as factual.
How many people, for example, are totally convinced that Richard Nixon became president by employing a racist “Southern Strategy,” that the Reagans were freeloaders who let their Hollywood friends buy them a mansion when they left Washington, that Dan Quayle received special treatment that allowed him to join the National Guard, that the Supreme Court selected George W. Bush as president, and that Sarah Palin said she could see Washington from her house? Each of these falsehoods has been maliciously passed along countless times as assumed news.
Liberals tend not to check these stories, because these are things they assume everyone just knows. Of course Sarah Palin is a bloodthirsty extremist who encourages her deranged supporters to gun down kindly Democrats. Doesn’t everyone just know that? So why bother checking? All that might do is transform an “honest mistake” into a prima facie case of defamation.
The Shinbone: The Frontier of the Free Press