Businessman settles defamation suit with former reporter he outed in newspaper ad

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Darryl Morris

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) — One of Idaho’s wealthiest people has reached a settlement with a reporter he sued for defamation after the reporter said on television that he faced threats when the businessman criticized his work covering child sexual abuse in the Boy Scouts.

Peter Zuckerman apologized to businessman Frank VanderSloot, the CEO of health care products company Melaleuca, in an affidavit on Monday, the Post Register of Idaho Falls reported. Zuckerman stated he made untrue statements in a 2012 appearance on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show.” Zuckerman was no longer working for the Post Register when he made the statements.

While on the show, Zuckerman said he faced harassment, threats and professional difficulties after VanderSloot took out a full-page advertisement in the newspaper criticizing the reporter’s work covering child sexual abuse in the Boy Scouts. The ad mentioned that Zuckerman is gay, and Zuckerman said VanderSloot outed him.

Zuckerman now says he should have been clearer about the timing of the harassment and attacks because some occurred before the ad was published, and that two radio commentators discussed his sexual orientation the week before the ad.

“I agree with Mr. VanderSloot that there was no evidence that my sexual orientation had anything to do with my approach to the story,” Zuckerman said in his affidavit. “It would be unfair for anyone to conclude that it did.”

Zuckerman added that his boyfriend at the time did not lose his job because of VanderSloot’s advertisement. Instead, Zuckerman says Dylan Stone was fired before the ads came out, but he had gotten the dates and timing confused.

Details about the settlement have not been disclosed. However, 4th District Judge Darla Williamson ordered both parties to pay their own attorney fees.

The settlement comes nearly two weeks after the same judge dismissed a separate defamation lawsuit filed by VanderSloot. In that case, VanderSloot sued liberal-leaning magazine Mother Jones, contending that a 2012 article about him and a tweet promoting the article were false and prompted national criticism.

In her ruling, Williamson wrote that some of the statements VanderSloot took issue with were “substantially true” and others — including a description of VanderSloot as “gay-bashing” — were open to such a wide spectrum of interpretation that they could not be proven true or false.

“These lawsuits were never about money,” VanderSloot said in a statement. “Nor were they an effort to punish the defendants for their untruths and inaccuracies.”

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