Congratulations to Mother Jones for not backing down from Mitt Romney's pal Frank Vandersloot. The judge ruled in their favor on all claims, smacking down Vandersloot's effort to chill their investigative reporting.
TODAY WE ARE happy to announce a monumental legal victory for Mother Jones: A judge in Idaho has ruled in our favor on all claims in a defamation case filed by a major Republican donor, Frank VanderSloot, and his company, Melaleuca Inc. In a decision issued Tuesday, the court found that Mother Jones did not defame VanderSloot or Melaleuca because "all of the statements at issue are non-actionable truth or substantial truth." The court also found that the statements were protected as fair comment under the First Amendment.
This is the culmination of a lengthy, expensive legal saga that began three years ago when the 2012 presidential primaries were in full swing. On February 6, 2012, we published an article about VanderSloot after it emerged that his company, Melaleuca, and its subsidiaries had given $1 million to Mitt Romney's super-PAC. The piece noted that VanderSloot had gone to unusual lengths to oppose gay rights in Idaho, and that Melaleuca had run into trouble with regulators.
Legally, what we fought over was what, precisely, the terms "bashing" and "outing" meant in the context of our article. (Read the decision for yourself.) But make no mistake: This was not a dispute over a few words. It was a push, by a superrich businessman and donor, to wipe out news coverage that he disapproved of. Had he been successful, it would have been a chilling indicator that the 0.01 percent can control not only the financing of political campaigns, but also media coverage of those campaigns.
Vandersloot set out to destroy Mother Jones along with a young gay reporter who wrote a story for the Post-Dispatch about Vandersloot's homophobic obsession with barring gays from the Boy Scouts. He was brutal, throwing expensive lawyers and his own bullying presence into the mix. The reporter, Peter Zuckerman, was the target of full-page ads in the paper, and was outed publicly which brought him some serious harassment.
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Here's a moment that gives you a sense of what it was like. At one point, Zuckerman was subjected to roughly 10 hours of grilling by VanderSloot's lawyers about every detail of the controversy in Idaho Falls, including the breakup with his boyfriend of five years. (VanderSloot also threatened to sue the ex-boyfriend, backing off only after he recanted statements he'd made about the Boy Scouts episode.) As the lawyers kept probing, Zuckerman broke down and cried as he testified that the time after the ads appeared was one of the darkest periods of his life. VanderSloot, who had flown to Portland for the occasion, sternly looked on. (His lawsuit against Zuckerman is ongoing.)
And that wasn't the end of it. VanderSloot's legal team subpoenaed the Obama campaign, which had run ads naming him as a major Republican donor. Apparently they believed we had somehow fed the campaign that information—never mind that our article, and the Federal Election Commission data that prompted it—was on the internet for anyone to read.
Go read the whole thing. It was a brutal lawsuit, which makes the victory that much sweeter. Congratulations to Mother Jones.
Watch for Melaleuca and Vandersloot to be big players in 2016, too. They're not done. Not by a long shot.