A New York Times fact-checker said in court Monday that she didn’t look over the assertion in a 2017 editorial of a clear link between a map circulated by Sarah Palin’s political action committee and the 2011 mass shooting that wounded Rep. Gabby Giffords.
Eileen Lepping, who appeared at Palin’s Manhattan federal court trial against the Times via video, said the error could be attributed to a “combination of things,” including her working quickly because she was on deadline.
Lepping was responding to questions by Judge Jed Rakoff, who asked her about the fact-checking process so he clearly understood answers she had given during her testimony to attorneys for Palin and the Times.
Rakoff asked her about particular lines in the editorial, including the assertion that there was a “clear” link that showed the 2011 shooting was politically incited by a map circulated by Palin’s political action committee.
The map showed congressional districts, including Giffords’, under stylized cross hairs that looked like a rifle’s sights.
“Was that because those are not the kind of facts you fact-check, or was it an oversight or what?” Rakoff asked.
“It could have been a combination of things … I was checking things fast on deadline … my reading of it led me not to have looked at that specifically,” Lepping responded.
“I did the best of my ability in the time that I had,” she added.
Palin sued the Times in 2017 over the editorial that was titled “America’s Lethal Politics” and published after a gunman opened fire on congressional Republicans at a Northern Virginia baseball field.
The editorial mentioned the Arizona mass shooting years earlier and claimed “the link to the political incitement was clear.”
“Before the shooting, Sarah Palin’s political action committee circulated a map of targeted electoral districts that put Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized cross hairs,” the editorial read.
Lepping testified Monday that the morning after the editorial ran, she reviewed a police report that stated the Arizona gunman was not motivated by politics. The Times corrected the editorial the day after it was published.
In a statement last week, a spokesperson for the Times said the error was unintentional and Palin’s suit is meritless.
“In this trial we are seeking to reaffirm a foundational principle of American law: public figures should not be permitted to use libel suits to punish unintentional errors by news organizations,” the spokesperson said.
“We published an editorial about an important topic that contained an inaccuracy. We set the record straight with a correction,” they added.
James Bennet, the former editorial page editor, is named as a defendant in the suit and is expected to testify at the trial later this week.