History doesn't repeat itself, it morphs.
Glenn Greenwald Takes On Frank Vandersloot
Salon author Glenn Greenwald exposes Frank Vandersloot's pattern of using his wealth to insinuate himself politically and to hire lawyers for purposes of intimidation of anyone daring to criticize him, his company, or his practices. If you don't know Glenn:
Glenn Greenwald  is a former Constitutional and civil rights litigator and is the author of two New York Times Bestselling books on the Bush administration’s executive power and foreign policy abuses. His just-released book, With Liberty and Justice for Some, is an indictment of America’s two-tiered system of justice, which vests political and financial elites with immunity even for egregious crimes while subjecting ordinary Americans to the world’s largest and most merciless penal state. Greenwald was named by The Atlantic as one of the 25 most influential political commentators in the nation. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism, and is the winner of the 2010 Online Journalism Association Award for his investigative work on the arrest and oppressive detention of Bradley Manning.
Of course, publishing such an article will be inviting the very thing he's exposing, legal confrontation with Frank Vandersloot, and his company Melaleuca, Inc. As a result, one can safely assume that this has been already carefully scrutinized for accuracy by Salon's legal department, in addition to Greenwald's own experience as an attorney. As a national publication, Salon has the resources necessary to take on such threats, and be insulated from such intimidation. I expect communication among attorneys has already commenced.
The entire article is a must read for any observer of Idaho politics, but this section is no small amount of vindication for us here at 43sb.com.
These national magazines are encountering what small local journalists and bloggers in Idaho have confronted for years. The website 43rdStateBlues is written by a collection of Idaho Democrats and they all write under pseudonyms. In 2007, one of them (“TomPaine”) wrote a critical post about VanderSloot, and then quickly received a letter from Melaleuca’s in-house General Counsel at the time, Ken Sheppard, threatening a lawsuit if the post was not removed within 24 hours. The website complied by removing the post, but wanted their readers to know why the post was removed. So another poster (“d2″) explained that they had received a letter from Melaleuca’s lawyers demanding its removal, and then posted the lawyer’s letter.
Melaleuca responded by obtaining an after-the-fact copyright certificate for that lawyer’s letter, then demanded that the hosting company remove the letter from the website on the ground that it constituted copyright infringement (the hosting company promptly complied), and Melaleuca then sued the website for copyright infringement for having published the now-copyrighted lawyer’s letter without their consent. Worse, as part of that lawsuit, Melaleuca issued a subpoena demanding the identities of both anonymous bloggers — the one who wrote the original post about VanderSloot (“TomPaine”) and the one who posted the lawyer’s letter (“d2″). A district court in Idaho ordered the website to disclose to Melaleuca the identity of the blogger who posted the lawyer’s cease-and-desist letter, but refused to compel disclosure of the identity of the other blogger. It’s almost impossible to imagine any more thuggish attempts to intimidate people from speaking out and criticizing VanderSloot: this was a tiny website being sued for trivial offenses in federal court by a company owned by a billionaire.
Links omitted from the original. The national exposure of Salon is sure to bring unwelcome attention to the Romney campaign, since Frank Vandersloot is the national finance co-chair of the Mitt Romney presidential campaign. Indeed Romney is in Boise, as of this posting, fundraising and making a public appearance at a local manufacturing plant hastily arranged, so as not to appear too aloof at his $1,000 luncheon/$2,500 photo op fundraising event. Frank Vandersloot is sure to be there. Vandersloot's use of money and power in politics will likely further demonstrate that Romney and his political cronies are members of the 1%. Newt Gingrich successfully used a this ad to drive a wedge between Romney and a significant part of the Republican base, low wage conservatives in South Carolina. With the recent successful rallies staged by Rick Santorum in the state, Romney's status as a lock in Idaho could be further jeopardized.
Frank Vandersloot really has no one to blame but himself. His heavy handed tactics are a classic example of the Streisand effect, inviting the very scrutiny he sought to quash. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.
Update 2/17 12:48: Glenn writes in his comment section:
Salon deserves a huge amount of credit for standing behind what I wrote. It's the first time in five years that I gave them advanced warning about what I was writing - I didn't have to, but thought it was only fair to make sure they were willing to put themselves in the position of the inevitable attacks - and they never blinked in giving me full-fledged support and encouragement.
A lot of places - most - would do not that, but they understood and immediately embraced the journalistic importance of doing it.
Update 2/17 1:40: The local media has picked up on the story and the significance of the juncture of the expose and Romney's visit to Idaho today. DFO at HBO was the first. Betsy soon followed. Also Popkey wrote a blurb and references a piece he did on Vandersloot recently. Popkey implies that he first brought attention to this issue by observing Vandersloot's litigious nature, but as I recall the front page article was a brown nosing puff piece. Its now behind a pay wall so I can't access it. Anyone confirm or deny?
Update 2/17 1:56 And the heroine of this story Jody May Chang wrote up her own piece here. God love ya Jody. You done good.
Update 2/17 3:19 In an interesting development, Roger Plothow, the publisher and editor of the Post Register in Idaho Falls where Vandersloot resides, and I had the following exchange regarding the Greenwald piece on a friend's facebook thread.
Since my newspaper features prominently in this piece, perhaps I can offer some observations. First, there's no doubt that Frank is very aggressive in dealing with competition, the media, politics, etc. But when we write about people, it's usually best to get our facts straight.
1) Frank's not a billionaire, and really not even close. His fortune is sizeable, estimated by some as high as $750 million. Still, a billion is a billion.
2) I read the article in Mother Jones before it was pulled and changed. It was full of errors. (And, again, it featured the Post Register prominently.)
3) No medium has written more frequently or, at times, more crtically (sic) of Frank than the Post Register. He has often disagreed with us, sometimes vociferously. He and I have met personally on these issues. Sometimes, as with the Boys Scouts coverage, we ultimately agree to disagree. Sometimes he chooses to respond, sometimes not. However, I have always felt that he's been straightforward and not afraid to reconsider his position. And I've never felt so threatened that I considered pulling or killing a story.
4) To suggest that Frank can essentially shut down any criticism of him or his company is pure paranoid fantasy. There have been numerous times when Frank has stayed absolutely silent when we've criticized him.
Frank and I have gone the rounds in the past and may do so again in the future. One of the things I've learned from that is that he's not the ogre some have made him out to be. I disagree with his politics nearly 100 percent. But, unlike others with whom the Post Register has had run-ins, he's been willing to listen, engage, and even sometimes change his mind. He's also sometimes stuck to positions that I continue to believe were wrong. I don't know anyone about whom the same couldn't be said.
Interesting but understandable defense Roger. As for his worth, perhpas (sic) you should address that concern to Dan Popkey and the Idaho Statesman. Clearly one of you is wrong. I'm certainly will(ing) to know how you know his value.
Barring any meaningful sourcing to the contrary, I'd say Popkey is flat wrong. I note that Yahoo Answers projects Frank's net worth at $1.2 billion, based on the assumption that he's the sole owner of Melaleuca. He's not -- there are many shareholders.
I'm not defending Frank, I'm simply saying that the Salon piece is crappy journalism. It's sort of like people who make stuff up about Obama -- there's plenty to criticize, why invent anything. Tina, this piece isn't about what goes on "behind closed doors" -- it makes claims of fact that are simply and irrefutably untrue.
I'm quite amused with your use of one factual discrepancy, which may or may not be correct, to basically justify an implied assertion that Glenn has it wrong. I certainly understand where the Post Register might weigh in defense of Frank, and your personal insights are appreciated, but you have provided no basis for your characterization of "pure paranoid fantasy". Not a good start for a self proclaimed journalist in condemning an article for factual inaccuracies. Give it another try.
A central piece of the article is about the Mother Jones article of several weeks ago and how Vandersloot used the threat of a lawsuit to have it re-written. I read that original article -- it was full of factual inaccuracies, right down to the interpretation of how much money people make at Melaleuca. In this article, it's used as evidence of Frank's power. It was, in truth, sloppy journalism that shouldn't have made it past the editor's desk.
I haven't implied that "Glenn has it wrong." I have argued that key portions and major assertions are inaccurate or misleading. It's understandable that people who hate the man are all-too-willing to believe anything written about him. He and I don't run in the same circles or agree on very much, but fair criticism doesn't allow for sloppy reporting. My reference to "paranoid fantasy" was with regard to the allegation that Frank can essentially silence any voices contrary to his. I stand by my characterization -- just Google the man's name for heaven's sake.
Hmmm, seems to me the major premise of Glenn's article is that Frank uses his wealth to alter someone's narrative with which he disagrees and will silence those he can by legal intimidation if the economic disparity between them enables him to do so. Indeed, he went after the Idaho agenda and Jody May Chang for describing him as "anti-gay". I think you are quibbling and leaping to unsupported conclusions much more than Glenn is.
Nice chatting, y'all. Bash away.
I certainly agree with Roger that Vandersloot is entitled to correct factual inaccuracies placed in the media, traditional or otherwise. But focusing solely on the inaccuracies in the initial Mother Jones article does no justice to Greenwald's piece, particularly on the use of the threat of baseless lawsuits to quell honest debate. Having tangled with Roger before, he has an antipathy to bloggers, particularly pseudonymous ones, which I attribute to misplaced ire for the demise of print in traditional media. But to call the Greenwald piece out as an example of shitty journalism belies the acclaim Greenwald has received as a respected writer in the political arena.
Update 2/18 7:36: McJoan chimes in with additional information documenting the blistering heat the Post Register took from Vandersloot in publishing the award winning boy scout story. Although not sourced, other Idaho Falls residents confirm that Dean Miller got fired through Vandersloot's efforts, even though the boy scout story was entirely accurate.
Update 2/19 9:05: Roger Plothow has deigned to chime in here taking issue with the previous sentence and, with much derision, demanding I remove the part referencing Dean Miller getting fired through Vandersloot's efforts. I linked to my source for that information, which certainly seems consistent with the volume of information disclosed on the topic in the last three days. But seeing as Roger was so much more than a casual observer in the matter, his assertions that Frank Vandersloot had nothing to do with Miller's "termination" merit repeating in the body of this post. I've requested clarification of his demand, and for further comment regarding Dean Miller's assessment of Vandersloot's involvement in the boy scout story set forth in 2006, which, it's interesting to note, was published prior to Roger's "termination" of Dean Miller.
I certainly don't want to get in a pickle over the actual or proximate cause for Dean's "termination", however Roger's stated reason of taking the newspaper in a different direction merely begs the question, and seems to be a red herring from the primary thrust of all the material noted above, the fact of the influence wielded by SE Idaho's "billionaire" in the political and public opinion arenas. But in that regard, Roger's statement that "Frank played no role in Dean's termination" in light of Dean Miller's own assessment of his interference in the boy scout story seems incongruous from an objective standpoint, even with a substantial passage of time between events. Indeed, Roger's spirited defense and take down demand merely enhances this notion. Methinks he doth protest too much.