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Melaleuca CEO sues magazine, claims defamation

Updated at: 01/31/2013 2:07 PM
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(AP) IDAHO FALLS, Idaho - Idaho businessman Frank VanderSloot is suing Mother Jones magazine because he contends that he was defamed by an article that depicted him as a "gay-basher."

VanderSloot, the CEO of direct marketing company Melaleuca, filed the lawsuit in Idaho Falls’ 7th District court on Tuesday. He says a February 2012 article about him and two tweets promoting it prompted national criticism.

The magazine’s co-editor-in-chief Monika Bauerlein says Mother Jones stands by its reporting and she hasn’t yet received official notification of the lawsuit.

VanderSloot is seeking nearly $75,000 in damages. The lawsuit focuses on the article titled, "Pyramid-Like Company Ponies Up $1 million for Mitt Romney." The term "gay-bashing" never appears in the story, but VanderSloot points to a tweet promoting the article that described him as Romney’s "gay-bashing buddy."

In the lawsuit, VanderSloot contends that the term "gay-bashing" denotes violence, harassment or intimidation based on sexual orientation.

"I’ve never taken shots like this before," VanderSloot said. "I think it’s particularly egregious to accuse somebody of a hate crime ... In my opinion, that’s what gay-bashing is. The accusation is that I have bashed gay people."

The Mother Jones article said that VanderSloot outed a gay reporter for the Post Register in 2005 when he purchased a full-page ad in the newspaper criticizing the reporter’s extensive work covering child sexual abuse and cover-up scandals in the Boy Scouts.

VanderSloot has maintained that the reporter’s sexual orientation was publicly known before the advertisement hit newsstands in conservative eastern Idaho.

VanderSloot has gained attention in the past for his approach to gay rights issues. In 1999, he bought space on 25 billboards to protest a documentary called "It’s Elementary" that aired on Idaho Public Television. The documentary discussed how schools approached the subject of homosexuality, and on the billboards VanderSloot said it promoted "the homosexual lifestyle of your children." In 2008, VanderSloot’s wife, Belinda, contributed $100,000 to an independent group supporting a successful California effort to ban gay marriage.

The multi-millionaire businessman caught the notice of the national media when he became the national campaign finance co-chair of the Romney campaign.

The lawsuit states that the Mother Jones article created a "national media firestorm," including attention from "The Rachel Maddow Show," Rolling Stone magazine and Salon.com. VanderSloot said those organizations parroted falsehoods from the Mother Jones article.

"In today’s 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."

Bauerlein, the co-editor in chief of Mother Jones, said 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. "Mother Jones has a long and solid track record of journalistic excellence."

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)