A judge dismissed Frank VanderSloot’s defamation lawsuit against Mother Jones magazine Tuesday, granting a summary judgment.
Judge Darla Williamson ruled statements the magazine publicly made about VanderSloot were opinions, therefore not defamatory.
In a statement, Mother Jones, through its attorney James Chadwick, said, “(The decision) holds VanderSloot and Melaleuca failed to show that any of the statements they attacked was false. It also holds that the statements were protected by the First Amendment, because Mother Jones laid out the facts on which readers could reach their own conclusions.”
Editor in Chief Clara Jeffery added, “We are committed to accurately reporting the facts in every article we publish. It is a powerful vindication that after a close examination of the voluminous evidence, the court has found that this is what we did in this case.”
But the judge’s ruling took the magazine to task for its reporting methods.
“But the journalistic model revealed to the court in the record of this lawsuit is anything but a ‘guardian of true liberty,’” Williamson wrote. “Instead, it is little more than mudslinging, advertised as journalistic fearlessness, which offers little in the way of a complete or balanced picture for its readers. Instead of being a leader in educating the people about civil discourse in an era of increased political polarization, the press in general, and Mother Jones in particular, leads the way in demonizing, rather than fairly discussing, those whose points of view differ from its own.”
Those words were enough for the Melaleuca CEO to claim victory even though his lawsuit against the magazine was dismissed.
“It’s so far better than we ever could have expected, I am blown away,” VanderSloot told the Post Register
VanderSloot sued the magazine in January 2013 after it published a Feb. 6, 2012, article VanderSloot felt defamed him. In addition, the suit targeted tweets by editor Monika Bauerlein and reporter Stephanie Mencimer, specifically Bauerlein’s tweet on the day of publication that read: “Romney’s gay-bashing buddy runs a company that targets stay-at-home moms for misleading marketing scheme. Charming!”
Williamson used cutting words when talking about Mother Jones’ journalistic integrity:
“ the Court finds Mother Jones’ reporting styles, and indeed the general trend in political journalism, troubling. The Court record and, in particular, (an email from Mother Jones reporter Stephanie Mencimer), illustrates Mother Jones’ determination to present a biased article by offering a skewed view of the Plaintiffs.
“Mother Jones describes its articles as ‘smart, fearless journalism,’ ‘ahead of the curve’ and ‘about reporting.’ Contrary to its perception of itself, this case illustrates the non-objective bias of Mother Jones and its approach in seeking out only the negative to support its position; resorting to sophomoric bullying and name-calling to lead the reader to adopt its particular agenda.”
VanderSloot said Williamson’s choice words were far more descriptive than a jury verdict.
“We were asking for it to be sent to a jury,” VanderSloot said. “The judge gave us so much more than what a jury could have given us. We were only going to ask for $1 from the jury, so it wasn’t about money, it was to clear our name.”
The suit asked for up to $74,999 in damages.
VanderSloot said he and his attorney still disagreed with Williamson’s ruling that the statements weren’t defamatory, however, he found it the best possible outcome.
The Mother Jones article claimed VanderSloot “outed” former Post Register reporter Peter Zuckerman as being gay in a full-page ad that ran in the Post Register in 2005. The ad was purchased following Zuckerman’s reporting in a series of Post Register articles titled “Scout’s Honor,” dealing with pedophilia in the Grand Boy Scouts of America’s Teton Council.
In May 2014, VanderSloot requested and was allowed to name Zuckerman as an additional defendant in the case.
The case against Zuckerman centers on a May 4, 2012, appearance on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show,” where Zuckerman asserted VanderSloot publicly “outed him” as gay in a 2005 full-page advertisement in the Post Register.
The case against Zuckerman was not affected by the summary judgment and VanderSloot said he expects it to go to trial.
VanderSloot on Tuesday announced he has started a fund to defend conservatives less affluent than himself from the “liberal press.” He said his dealings with Mother Jones enlightened him to the smear campaigns the media can launch on a person just because of a difference of opinion.
VanderSloot said he had established and pledged the first $1 million to the Guardian of True Liberty Fund.
“My issue is more with the liberal press, and I believe we need to hold the press accountable,” he said. “As this judge clearly said, Mother Jones does not do journalism.”
VanderSloot said the criticism from Mother Jones was due to his political donations to a conservative politician and cause.
“It’s expensive to put up a legal defense like we had, and not everyone can afford to do that and so if they don’t have the resources, they fall victim to having their reputations smeared by outlets like Mother Jones,” VanderSloot said. “This fund that we are starting, I’ve talked to several very good minds, some with deep pockets, that are going to be supporting our endeavor.”