A Wall Street Journal article posted today, discussing Sarah Palin’s strategy for marketing her new book Going Rogue reveals, among other things, that Palin consider suing Atlantic blogger Andrew Sullivan earlier this year for libel:
Ms. Palin was particularly angry at bloggers and the media, associates said, for speculation that her baby Trig was really the child of Bristol, her daughter.
At one point, according to people familiar with the discussions, Ms. Palin considered pursuing a libel suit against at least one blogger, the Atlantic’s Andrew Sullivan. Ms. Palin decided against such a move because of the publicity it would bring.
Mr. Sullivan, in response, said asking “factually verifiable questions is obviously not libel.”
I have to say that it’s a little difficult to blame Palin.
Now, I like Sullivan and his site. Reading his blog helped me mature politically. Through him I gained a lot of respect for the conservative point of view, and a solid preference for a more civil and reasoned style of debate, as opposed to the more inflammatory method employed by many liberals. I also think he was right to bring up questions about Palin, because there were a lot of things that didn’t make sense about her.
That said, at times his writings on the subject approached and often times crossed the line into Palin Derangement Syndrome (and they sometimes still do). There’s only so much a person can write about a subject before it stops being a passion and becomes an obsession. Even one of his own underbloggers, Patrick Appel, disagreed with Sullivan’s obsession with Palin. It was absolutely ridiculous. I stick with his blog because I still think he does good writing, but it was an easy decision to skip those posts when he was at his worst.
Still, despite my own misgivings for the way Sully handled Palin, I think she would have been hard-pressed to prove libel. From a legal perspective, Palin was not only a well known public figure at the time, but a governor. Then there’s the fact that the questions Sullivan was asking about Palin were based on circumstances that were not difficult to verify in other media; his chief source was the Alaska Daily News. I also don’t think he ever definitively stated that Trig was not Palin’s baby. So I conclude that it would have been a very difficult case, and if she had lost, it would only give her opponents more fire power. She probably made the right decision to not pursue a lawsuit.
More than the legal difficulties of arguing such a charge would have been the prospect of such a suit from a politician who was in office. It has been done, but historically when these suits have been brought up by incumbent politicians, it has usually led to the Supreme Court ruling for a weakened application of the law when it comes to those people (New York Times Co. v Sullivan, 1964). I think anyone, even politicians, should have the right to file suit against people who are maliciously trying to hurt their image (which was the Court’s ruling in Sullivan), but I just don’t think those circumstances apply here.
So while I don’t approve of the way Sullivan treated Palin at times, I have a hard time imagining a libel suit going very far.
(H/T, coincidentally, Andrew Sullivan)