VanderSloot sues former reporter for defamation

Peter Zuckerman

Melaleuca CEO Frank VanderSloot seeks to name a new defendant in his defamation lawsuit against Mother Jones magazine.

VanderSloot’s attorney’s have requested former Post Register reporter Peter Zuckerman be added to the list of defendants being sued for “knowingly and maliciously publishing false statements” depicting VanderSloot in national media as a “gay-basher.”

In the event the court does not allow the addition, VanderSloot’s attorneys also have filed a separate defamation lawsuit against Zuckerman alleging the same thing. Unlike the Mother Jones suit, which also lists Melaleuca as a

plaintiff, the complaint against Zuckerman is sought solely by VanderSloot.

“We regret that we have been forced to sue Peter Zuckerman, but his actions and public statements have made a lawsuit necessary in order to correct the public record,” VanderSloot attorney Tom Clare said in an emailed statement.

“Mr. Zuckerman has had several opportunities to correct his false statements about my clients but, unfortunately, instead of undoing the damage and the mistaken impressions his statements have caused, he has only repeated and doubled-down on them, including on national television. Had Mother Jones or Peter Zuckerman been willing to correct the public record on their own, we would not have been forced to pursue this litigation to vindicate (VanderSloot’s and Melaleuca’s) reputations.

“We certainly do not wish Mr. Zuckerman any harm. We only want him to be truthful and correct the public record. Given the damage that Mr. Zuckerman has done, that’s not too much to ask.”

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 ad, placed by VanderSloot, disputed the paper’s reporting in its Scouts’ Honor series about pedophilia in the Boy Scouts. Zuckerman, who worked at the Post Register from 2003 to 2006, was lead reporter on the series. He has repeatedly claimed, as a result of the ad, he suffered homophobic harassment and that his then-boyfriend, Dylan Stone, was fired from his job.

VanderSloot’s original lawsuit against Mother Jones was filed in-part because Zuckerman’s claims were parroted in a Feb. 6, 2012 Mother Jones article and in tweets promoting the story.

The lawsuit was filed against Zuckerman several weeks after he and Stone were deposed as witnesses in the Mother Jones suit. Those depositions have been sealed as confidential at the request of Mother Jones’ lawyers. But court documents do include an affidavit from Stone in which he admits to giving inaccurate information about being fired as a result of the newspaper ad.

“I realize now that Mr. VanderSloot’s comments about Peter Zuckerman … did not result in the termination of my employment as a social worker,” Stone said in the affidavit. “To the best of my knowledge Mr. VanderSloot’s comments about Peter Zuckerman did not get me fired from any job nor did they cause me any problems with my employer.”

Stone could not be reached for comment.

The Post Register spoke with Zuckerman, but he was unwilling to discuss the lawsuit on the record. Mother Jones’ attorney James Chadwick issued the following statement on behalf of Zuckerman:

“We are reviewing the complaint. One thing that’s clear is that Mr. VanderSloot has never asked that Peter correct anything, so the lawsuit against him came as quite a surprise. If Mr. Vandersloot does proceed with this lawsuit against Peter, it will be unfortunate that he has decided to go after an award-winning local news reporter in this way.”

The May 1 complaint against Zuckerman is demanding a jury trial and monetary damages and/or attorney fees not to exceed $74,999. Zuckerman and his attorneys have yet to respond to the complaint. The Mother Jones lawsuit is awaiting a trial date.

“This is just the latest example of Mr. VanderSloot bullying those who speak out about the controversies around him,” Chadwick said on behalf of Mother Jones. “If he just wanted to set the record straight, he wouldn’t have waited two years to bring this lawsuit against Mr. Zuckerman.”