Opinion | James Bennet tried to apologize to Sarah Palin.

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Once that factual miscarriage became clear to Bennet & Co., they issued a correction and even something approaching an apology to readers:

Yet there was no apology to the Palin herself, the former Alaska governor, television personality and critic of the “lamestream media.”

There almost was. As the Erik Wemple Blog noted on Twitter Monday, Bennet actually included a direct apology to Palin in a response to questions from CNN media reporter Oliver Darcy in the aftermath of the errant editorial. “I’m not aware that Sarah Palin has asked for an apology,” wrote Bennet, in a note that was revealed in his May 2020 deposition, “but, yes, I, James Bennet, do apologize to her for this mistake.”

That apology, however, didn’t proceed to CNN; it apparently went to the New York Times communications shop. Asked in his deposition whether the apology ever made it to Darcy, Bennet said that to his “knowledge,” it did not. Somewhere along the line, the apology appears to have been swallowed by the New York Times’s standards-and-practices bureaucracy. “What I assume happened was that this — my — my response was brought into compliance with Times policy,” he said in the deposition.

That policy prohibits apologies paired with corrections. “We try to be perfect, but we do make mistakes. That’s why we have a corrections page. And almost every day there’s a mistake of some sort that somebody is upset about,” said Bennet in the deposition. “And some papers will say every time, ‘We regret the error.’ Rather meaningless, because they say it every time. Obviously we regret the error. And The Times, as a matter of policy, as, actually — is not to — is not to apologize.”

On Tuesday, Palin’s legal team returned to the issue as Bennet took the stand in the Palin v. New York Times trial, a defamation case stemming from the sentences regarding “political incitement” inserted by Bennet into the editorial. He fielded questions from Palin attorney Shane Vogt on a number of issues, including the process that produced the editorial, correspondence alerting him to factual problems and the correction.

Then came the question from Vogt: Did he apologize to Palin?

“My hope is that as a consequence of this process, I now have,” responded Bennet, likely referring to the appearance of his written apology to Palin via Darcy that surfaced in the case’s discovery materials. “I thought I had apologized to her when I went home that night. My hope is that this has now reached her.”

Passing an apology through Times communications and through a CNN media reporter may not qualify as the most personal of gestures. But it’s something, at least. In his deposition, Bennet was asked if he’d contacted Palin herself to apologize. “No,” he responded.

Listening to the session via remote audio link, Bennet sounded sincere in discussing his apology attempt. He came off like a journalist ashamed of a gobsmacking error and not at all like a journalist acting with malice against a washed-up Republican politician. And that’s the distinction that’ll determine this case.

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