MANHATTAN (CN) — The New York Times promised Thursday that it will comply with a federal judge’s order to hear firsthand from the editorial writers who triggered a defamation suit by linking Sarah Palin to a mass shooting.
“We’ve seen the order and will be providing the testimony that the judge has ordered,” spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades Ha said in a statement.
The Times has not identified the names — or even the number — of staffers involved in its June 14 editorial “America’s Lethal Politics,” a commentary on that morning’s shooting at a congressional baseball practice that left Louisiana Republican Rep. Steve Scalise critically injured.
Linking overheated political rhetoric to citizen violence, the editorial accused Palin of having a “clear” and “direct” connection to mass murderer Jared Lee Loughner’s shooting rampage in 2011.
Loughner’s carnage killed six people and wounded Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
Before those attacks, Palin’s political action committee had disseminated a map that put Giffords’ district within crosshairs, but it is unclear whether Loughner ever saw it.
Though the Times added this context in a correction within hour, Palin sued the newspaper weeks later.
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff said that he needs more information before he can decide whether the lawsuit can move forward.
“To a large extent, determination of that issue may turn on what inferences favorable to the plaintiff are reasonable given the circumstances alleged in the complaint,” a 2-page ruling states.
Palin’s attorney Shane Vogt, from Tampa, Florida-based Bajo Cuva Cohen Turkel, argued at a recent hearing that the Times’ malice could be inferred from the fact that the editorial contradicted its news coverage.
Rakoff seemed unreceptive to the argument in today’s ruling, noting that “these prior stories arguably would only evidence actual malice if the person(s) who wrote the editorial were aware of them.”
“This is information peculiarly within the knowledge of defendant; but on it arguably depends the reasonableness … of inferring actual malice,” Rakoff added.
Rakoff ordered the testimony at an evidentiary hearing on Aug. 16 at 2 p.m.
The judge previously promised to rule on the newspaper’s dismissal motion before the end of the month.