Sarah Palin may have been unclear as to why she decided to quit early as governor, but her lawyer, Thomas Van Flein, is insisting that it is not because of an investigation of wrongdoing involving her house on Lake Lucille or the Wasilla Sports complex. The link was published in pieces by Alaska blogger Shannyn Moore, Huffpo, Washington Post, the NY Times and MSNBC.
While Palin’s rationale for leaving the job early is questionable, if not laughable, she has reason to be miffed about the suggestion that she is leaving with investigators on her heels. Special Agent Eric Gonzalez stated that “[t]here is absolutely no truth to those rumors, that we’re investigating her or getting ready to indict her. It’s just not true.”
Does this make it defamation? Probably not. Palin is both a public figure and public official. As such, she fails under the New York Times v. Sullivan standard and must show actual malice — defined as knowing falsity or a reckless disregard that the story was untrue. It is a standard that was designed to be difficult to satisfy. The purpose of a letter from counsel is to put the news organizations on notice that the story is false and defamatory. Any later stories are then easier to prove as defamation with such notice.
The Los Angeles Times quickly published an article debunking the link, here, despite the fact that the theory continues to multiply over the Internet.