Friday, November 13, 2009

Palin Had Wanted To Serve The "Dish"

Sarah Palin considered suing the Atlantic Monthly's "Daily Dish" blog because its writer, Andrew Sullivan, republished a false story about her fifth pregnancy before checking the facts. The original story, concocted by a left-wing blog based on an episode of "Desperate Housewives," accused Palin and her minor daughter of a massive coverup of Trig Palin's true parentage. Ultimately the most effective libel of the 2008 campaign, it would barely have been noticed if Sullivan hadn't given it credence by lending it his considerable reputation.

Sullivan is right that a lawsuit probably would've failed, although not for the bogus reason he offers in his post, which is basically that he should be allowed to publish lies in order to get the facts. He's still making the claim that he repeated the story only "to get at the truth of the matter." Of course a journalist does that work before running his story, not after. Still, to win against the Atlantic Monthly and Sullivan, Palin would have had to prove that his running an unverified and ultimately unverifiable story was the result of malice, which is almost impossible for a plaintiff to do.

So her decision not to sue doesn't remove Sullivan's shame. In the months since his original publication, Sullivan has assiduously kept the story alive, evidently hoping for some form of expiation, all the while arguing that bloggers operate according to different rules than reporters (except when they don't, such as when Sullivan defended a fellow blogger and called him a journalist). Whether his theory would have helped his publisher defeat a libel lawsuit will have to be tested another time an influential blogger republishes a flagrant lie without doing his job and damages the reputation of innocent people as a result.

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