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Mother Jones Prevails in Defamation Suit Filed by Idaho Billionaire Frank VanderSloot

Judge dismisses case, statements 'non-actionable' or 'substantial truth'

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Mother Jones
 scored a major victory in court Oct. 6 against Melaleuca CEO Frank VanderSloot, who sued the magazine for defamation in 2013. Fourth District Judge Darla Williamson dismissed VanderSloot's claim, writing in her decision "all of the statements at issue are non-actionable truth or substantial truth."

"Truth is its own defense," Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein stated in a release announcing the decision.

The lawsuit stemmed from a 2012 article published by the nonprofit news outlet detailing Melaleuca's financial support for then-presidential hopeful Mitt Romney. It also included references to an incident in which VanderSloot purchased a full-page ad "outing" a former Idaho Falls Post-Register reporter as gay to cast doubt on his reporting about sexual abuse within the Boy Scouts. A later tweet from Bauerlein characterized VanderSloot's actions as "gay-bashing."

VanderSloot, a conservative billionaire who is ranked as the richest person in Idaho, sued Mother Jones for $74,900—"exactly $1 under the amount at which the lawsuit could have been moved to federal court," the magazine noted. "That ensured the case would be decided by jurors from the community where his company is the biggest employer and the sponsor of everything from the minor league ballpark to the Fourth of July fireworks." 
 
Mother Jones stated in the years since the initial filing, it has spent "at least" $2.5 million on its defense, as well as defending the former reporter, whom VanderSloot also sued for talking to Rachel Maddow.

"Had [VanderSloot] 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," Bauerlein and Mother Jones Editor-in-Chief Clara Jeffery wrote in a detailed backstory of the case published Oct. 8.

Despite the dismissal of his claims, VanderSloot highlighted sections in Williamson's decision criticizing Mother Jones' reporting as "non-objective" and resorting to "sophomoric bullying and name-calling to lead the reader to adopt its particular agenda."

VanderSloot has endowed a $1 million fund earmarked for lawsuits against so-called "liberal" news outlets.

"It will be a mission for me for the rest of my life to hold the press accountable," he said, according to the Associated Press. "The press is so protected, as shown in this case." 

For Bauerlein and Jeffery, the victory was "monumental."

"It's about making sure that in a time when media is always under pressure to buckle to politicians or big-money interests, you can trust that someone will stand up and go after the truth," they wrote.