Melaleuca CEO Frank VanderSloot says Mother Jones sparked a national media firestorm by depicting him as a gay-basher in a Feb. 6, 2012, article.
The magazine's co-editor-in-chief Monika Bauerlein told the Associated Press Thursday that Mother Jones stands by its reporting and that the magazine hadn't yet received official notification of the lawsuit.
VanderSloot's lawsuit, filed Tuesday in 7th District Court in Idaho Falls, asks for up to $74,999 in damages, even though VanderSloot said falsehoods in the article have cost Melaleuca millions in lost business.
The suit is centered on the article, Pyramid-Like Company Ponies Up $1 million for Mitt Romney. The lawsuit targets portions of the article that describe VanderSloot as anti-gay, as well as Twitter posts promoting the article by author Stephanie Mencimer and magazine Co-Editor in Chief Monika Bauerlein that provided links to the online version of the article.
Bauerlein told the AP that shortly after the article appeared on the magazine's website, VanderSloot and Melaleuca brought forth concerns about accuracy. The article was pulled off the website for a short time, and 10 days later, Mother Jones printed three corrections. In September 2012, Bauerlein said, Mother Jones editors met face-to-face with VanderSloot, and there was one follow-up conversation, but then communication between the parties ended.
"We feel very comfortable with our reporting," Bauerlein said according to the AP. "Mother Jones has a long and solid track record of journalistic excellence."
The lawsuit focuses on the term gay-bashing, which it says denotes violence, harassment or intimidation based on sexual orientation.
VanderSloot said hes been the subject of media criticism before, some of which was fair. But he said he cant abide being called a gay-basher.
Ive never taken shots like this before, VanderSloot said. I think its particularly egregious to accuse somebody of a hate crime.
In my opinion, thats what gay-bashing is. The accusation is that I have bashed gay people.
The article also claimed VanderSloot outed gay Post Register reporter Peter Zuckerman in a full-page ad in the newspaper in 2005. The ad was critical of Zuckermans reporting in the newspapers Scouts Honor series, which dealt with pedophilia in the Boy Scouts.
VanderSloots suit claims Zuckermans sexual orientation was known publicly before the series and subsequent ad hit newsstands.
TERMS AND TWEETS
The term gay-bashing never appeared in the Mother Jones article. Court documents point to Bauerleins Feb. 6 tweet that read: Romneys gay-bashing buddy runs a company that targets stay-at-home moms for misleading marketing scheme. Charming!
In addition to the controversy involving Zuckerman, VanderSloot earlier gained attention for buying space on 25 billboards in 1999 to protest a show on Idaho Public Television. The billboards claimed the Its Elementary documentary, which discussed how schools broached the subject of homosexuality, promoted the homosexual lifestyle of your children.
In 2008, VanderSloots wife, Belinda, contributed $100,000 to an independent group supporting a successful California effort to ban gay marriage, the Post Register previously reported.
I support my wifes right to take a position on things, VanderSloot said Wednesday. She would never bash a gay person, but shed like to call the relationship between two gay people something different than marriage. Something respectful, but something different. I support her.
VanderSloot also said he supports equal rights for gays, but believes that the definition of marriage is a union between a man and a woman.
ROMNEY LIFTED PROFILE
VanderSloots involvement with Romneys campaign as a national campaign finance co-chairman, lifted him onto the radar of the national media.
The lawsuit states that the Mother Jones article created a media firestorm, including attention from The Rachel Maddow Show, Rolling Stone magazine and Salon.com, all of which parroted falsehoods about VanderSloots supposed anti-gay politics and the outing of Zuckerman.
VanderSloot said he sued because the article went viral on the Internet.
In todays age, it becomes an impossibility (to hold media) accountable regardless of how wrong it is, he said. I believe that who you need to hold accountable are the people who fabricated the story in the first place.
According to the lawsuit, Melaleuca lawyers contacted Mother Jones editors and pointed out errors shortly after the article was published. The article was temporarily removed from the Mother Jones website. It was reposted on Feb. 16, with corrections and updates that the lawsuit said worked around the errors instead of correcting them.
VanderSloot said he and his wife later traveled to the magazines headquarters in California and provided documents proving that errors were made in the article. He said he asked for specific errors to be corrected and was told the story would remain online without further alteration.
VanderSloot said he made a point to cap damages requested in the suit.
Its not about (money) he said. Its about clearing my reputation.
Zach Kyle: (208) 542-6746