Former Romney Co-Chair Sues Mother Jones For Defamation

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Jan. 31 2013 1:43 PM

Former Romney Co-Chair Is Suing Mother Jones, but Not For The Reason You Might Guess

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Mitt Romney is seen reflected in a teleprompter as he speaks during a campaign rally at the Smithfield Foods Hangar on November 4, 2012 in Newport News, Va.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

An Idaho businessman who served as national finance co-chairman of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign has filed a $75,000 defamation suit against Mother Jones magazine. Given that sentence just included the words "Romney" and "Mother Jones," one might expect the legal fight to have something specifically to do with the now infamous 47-percent tape that you no doubt remember from this past summer. But while the video may still be fresh in the minds of both the plaintiff and defendant, it's not the focus of this lawsuit. The Associated Press with the details:

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

Frank VanderSloot is suing Mother Jones magazine because he contends he was defamed by an article that depicted him as a "gay-basher." VanderSloot, the CEO of direct marketing company Melaleuca, ... says a February 2012 article about him and two tweets promoting it prompted national criticism.
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The 2012 article in question was titled, "Pyramid-Like Company Ponies Up $1 million for Mitt Romney." While the company has previously found itself in hot water at both the state and federal level for the aforementioned "pyramid-like" nature of its business, VanderSloot's specific complaint is focused instead on how he was portrayed in the article. In a statement provided to local media, the company claims that the magazine "engaged in a malicious and reckless effort to damage VanderSloot’s reputation" because of the "sizable donation" he made to Romney's presidential campaign.

The term "gay-bashing" does not appear in the article as it is currently published. But it's worth noting that the magazine did take the story offline temporarily last February under legal pressure from VanderSloot's lawyers. It reposted the report about a week later with a handful of corrections, one of which concedes that the original article incorrectly described statements made by VanderSloot in an ad he took out in the Idaho Falls Post Register attacking the paper and one of its reporters over its coverage of a child sex scandal involving the local chapter of the Boy Scouts:

The article incorrectly described statements made by VanderSloot, Melaleuca's CEO, in the Post Register ad. In the ad, VanderSloot repeated allegations—which he attributed to others—that reporter Peter Zuckerman's sexual orientation had moved him to "attack the Boy Scouts and the LDS Church." VanderSloot said it would be "wrong" to draw conclusions about Zuckerman’s motives.

(You can read a first-person account of that fight—which is itself quite fascinating—written by the paper's executive editor here.)

VanderSloot claims those corrections didn't go far enough. He also points to a pair of tweets that the muckraking magazine sent out promoting the story, one of which dubbed him Romney's "gay-bashing buddy." That, according to VanderSloot's very literal reading of the term, amounts to accusing him of committing a "hate crime": "In my opinion, that’s what gay-bashing is," he said. "The accusation is that I have bashed gay people."

Mother Jones, meanwhile, tells the AP that it's standing behind its reporting. It's also worth pointing out that VanderSloot has a rather strained relationship with the media, and has something of a history of calling in his lawyers when he's unhappy with how he's portrayed in print and on air. For more on that, check out this column from last year by Glenn Greenwald, which details what he calls VanderSloot's "chronic bullying threats to bring patently frivolous lawsuits against his political critics."

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