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Sarah Palin’s positive COVID-19 tests delay libel trial against New York Times

The former Alaska governor’s positive test was announced in court just as jury selection was set to begin.
Sarah Palin is shown in this 2017 photo. Her trial against the New York Times was delayed after she tested positive for the coronavirus.
Sarah Palin is shown in this 2017 photo. Her trial against the New York Times was delayed after she tested positive for the coronavirus. [ BRYNN ANDERSON | AP ]
Published Jan. 24

NEW YORK — An unvaccinated Sarah Palin tested positive for COVID-19 Monday, forcing a postponement of the start of a trial in her libel lawsuit against The New York Times.

The former Alaska governor’s positive test was announced in court just as jury selection was set to begin at a federal courthouse in New York City.

Palin claims the Times damaged her reputation with an opinion piece penned by its editorial board that falsely asserted her political rhetoric helped incite the 2011 shooting of then-Arizona U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords. The newspaper has conceded the initial wording of the editorial was flawed, but not in an intentional or reckless way that made it libelous.

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff said the trial can begin Feb. 3 if Palin, 57, has recovered by then.

Palin, a one-time Republican vice presidential nominee, has had COVID-19 before. She’s urged people not to get vaccinated, telling an audience in Arizona last month that “it will be over my dead body that I’ll have to get a shot.”

When he first announced that Palin had gotten a positive result from an at-home test, Rakoff said: “She is, of course, unvaccinated.”

Additional tests in the morning also came out positive, Palin’s lawyer told the court.

“Since she has tested positive three times, I’m going to assume she’s positive,” the judge said.

Rakoff said that courthouse rules would permit her to return to court Feb. 3, even if she still tests positive, as long as she has no symptoms. If she does have symptoms, she can be looked at on Feb. 2 by a doctor who provides services to the courts, he said.

Palin’s case survived an initial dismissal that was reversed on appeal in 2019, setting the stage for a rare instance that a major news organization will have to defend itself before a jury in a libel case involving a major public figure.

It’s presumed that Palin will be the star witness in the civil case. She’s seeking unspecified damages, saying the Times hurt her budding career as a political commentator.

Palin sued the Times in 2017, citing the editorial about gun control published after Louisiana U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, also a Republican, was wounded when a man with a history of anti-GOP activity opened fire on a Congressional baseball team practice in Washington.

In the editorial, the Times wrote that, before the 2011 mass shooting that severely wounded Giffords and killed six others, Palin’s political action committee circulated a map of electoral districts that put Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized crosshairs.

In a correction two days later, the Times said the editorial had “incorrectly stated that a link existed between political rhetoric and the 2011 shooting” and that it had “incorrectly described” the map.

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The disputed wording had been added to the editorial by James Bennet, then the editorial page editor. At trial, a jury would have to decide whether he acted with “actual malice,” meaning that he knew what he wrote was false, or with “reckless disregard” for the truth.

In pretrial testimony, Bennet cited deadline pressures as he explained that he did not personally research the information about Palin’s political action committee before approving the editorial’s publication. He said he believed the editorial was accurate when it was published.

By TOM HAYS, Associated Press

• • •

How to get tested

Tampa Bay: The Times can help you find the free, public COVID-19 testing sites in Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk and Sarasota counties.

Florida: The Department of Health has a website that lists testing sites in the state. Some information may be out of date.

The U.S.: The Department of Health and Human Services has a website that can help you find a testing site.

• • •

How to get vaccinated

The COVID-19 vaccine for ages 5 and up and booster shots for eligible recipients are being administered at doctors’ offices, clinics, pharmacies, grocery stores and public vaccination sites. Many allow appointments to be booked online. Here’s how to find a site near you:

Find a site: Visit vaccines.gov to find vaccination sites in your ZIP code.

More help: Call the National COVID-19 Vaccination Assistance Hotline.

Phone: 800-232-0233. Help is available in English, Spanish and other languages.

TTY: 888-720-7489

Disability Information and Access Line: Call 888-677-1199 or email DIAL@n4a.org.

• • •

More coronavirus coverage

OMICRON VARIANT: Omicron changed what we know about COVID. Here’s the latest on how the infectious COVID-19 variant affects masks, vaccines, boosters and quarantining.

KIDS AND VACCINES: Got questions about vaccinating your kid? Here are some answers.

BOOSTER SHOTS: Confused about which COVID booster to get? This guide will help.

BOOSTER QUESTIONS: Are there side effects? Why do I need it? Here’s the answers to your questions.

PROTECTING SENIORS: Here’s how seniors can stay safe from the virus.

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