Today, First Look Media's Press Freedom Litigation Fund announces the launch of a matching fund campaign to support the legal defense of investigative news outlet Mother Jones.
First Look Media's Press Freedom Litigation Fund will match $74,999 in donations, the exact amount for which a billionaire and former Romney for President national finance co-chair, Frank VanderSloot, sued the nonprofit, thus ensuring the case would be tried in his native Boneville County, Idaho, instead of in federal court. The grant will be used to offset the more than $650,000 in Mother Jones' unreimbursed legal fees. (The case has cost the nonprofit more than $2.5 million, but the difference was covered by insurance.)
In 2013, VanderSloot and his company, Melaleuca Inc., sued Mother Jones over an article published nearly a year earlier, after it emerged that Melaleuca and its subsidiaries had given $1 million to Mitt Romney's super-PAC.
The lawsuit targeted Mother Jones' reporting about VanderSloot's controversial history in Idaho politics. Although most of the article concerned Melaleuca, it also discussed how VanderSloot had funded several full-page ads criticizing a series about a pedophile in the Boy Scouts. That series, which ran in the Idaho Falls Post Register, was written by a young reporter named Peter Zuckerman. Melaleuca's ads noted that Zuckerman was gay and questioned whether his reporting was biased. At the time, Zuckerman was out to a relatively small circle, but after earlier radio coverage and the ads he was a target of harassment. VanderSloot objected to Mother Jones' subsequent description of him as having "outed" a gay reporter whose investigative reporting he had "bashed."
Earlier this month, after extensive discovery and pretrial proceedings, the court dismissed the case, ruling in a summary judgment that Mother Jones' use of the terms "outing" and "bashing" was truthful and protected under the First Amendment. In response to his legal loss, VanderSloot has said that he is pledging and establishing $1 million to a legal fund for people seeking to sue Mother Jones and other members of the "liberal press."
"First Look Media stands with Mother Jones in their battle to combat efforts by moneyed interests to silence the press," said Lynn Oberlander, general counsel for media operations at First Look Media. "The Press Freedom Litigation Fund exists to aid the organizations and journalists who are fighting for the public interest. We encourage those who believe in the safeguarding of press freedoms as a crucial aspect of promoting a robust democracy, to join us in supporting Mother Jones in this fight."
VanderSloot also sued Zuckerman for defamation related to an interview Zuckerman did on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show in 2012. In 2014, after Zuckerman testified in the Mother Jones lawsuit and just before the statute of limitations ran out, VanderSloot sued Zuckerman for his comments on the Maddow Show, though he didn't sue MSNBC. Mother Jones took up Zuckerman's defense as well. (That case settled out of court earlier this week.)
This fundraising campaign will help Mother Jones continue the legal fight to defend free speech, and it will help ensure that the press truly remains free. Had VanderSloot been successful in his suit against the nonprofit news outlet, it would have been a chilling indicator that the very wealthy can control not only the financing of political campaigns, but also media coverage of those campaigns.
"We are grateful for the support of First Look Media," said Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein, also a defendant in the lawsuit. "It's vital that reporters be able to pursue the truth without being cowed by those who can afford to bury them in legal costs and paperwork."
Though insurance covered the lion's share of Mother Jones' legal fees, the organization incurred $650,000 in out-of-pocket costs, including the cost of Zuckerman's defense. Because Idaho has no anti-SLAPP statute, the organization will not be able to recover its costs. To contribute to the matching fund campaign for the legal defense of Mother Jones and Peter Zuckerman please visit our website: www.motherjones.com
About the First Look Media Press Freedom Litigation Fund
Launched in July 2014, First Look Media's Press Freedom Litigation Fund was designed to strengthen the ability of journalists and others to pursue legal fights where a substantial public interest is at stake. Grants under the program are used to fund challenges to government policies or actions that restrict press freedoms or denials of Freedom of Information Act requests; motions to quash subpoenas seeking source information or journalistic material; the defense in defamation cases where the underlying report concerns a matter of public interest; access cases to closed proceedings or sealed documents; and amicus efforts in support of press freedom.
About Mother Jones
Mother Jones is a nonprofit news outlet that delivers award-winning investigative reporting on the urgent issues of our day, from politics and climate change to education and food policy, via a magazine and a website visited by almost 10 million readers a month. Headquartered in San Francisco, it has bureaus in Washington, DC, and New York City. More at motherjones.com.