IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (CN) - Billionaire Frank VanderSloot has settled libel claims against a reporter he says defamed him on national television after the business owner criticized a series of stories involving the Mormon church and the Boy Scouts.
VanderSloot sued former Post Register reporter Peter Zuckerman following comments he made on MSNBC's "The Rachel Maddow Show," claiming VanderSloot outed him as gay in ads run in response to his investigative series "Scouts Honor."
The settlement materialized after Bonneville County Senior District Judge Darla Williamson granted VanderSloot partial summary judgment last week, which would have sent the case to a jury trial.
"Zuckerman portrays himself as a victim of the community page ad and blames VanderSloot for his subsequent negative experiences," she wrote. "The court presumes as a matter of law that these statements (about the negative experiences) 'disgrace and degrade' and hold VanderSloot 'up to public hatred, contempt or ridicule' and 'reflect on VanderSloot's 'integrity, character and his good name in the community.' The court finds the alleged libel is evident on its face."
She added that at issue are the exact comments made on Maddow's show.
"Both sides offer evidence that confirms and contradicts Zuckerman's statements to Maddow," Williamson said. "Thus, an issue of fact as to whether Zuckerman's personal and professional life was tremendously impacted by VanderSloot's ads is for presentation to a jury."
The Associated Press reported Wednesday, however, that VanderSloot and Zuckerman reached a settlement, with Zuckerman apologizing to VanderSloot - the owner and CEO of Melaleuca, an Idaho-based health care products company.
Zuckerman said in an affidavit that he should have been clearer about the timing of the harassment he and his then-boyfriend experienced as he related them on Maddow's show. Some of the harassment occurred before VanderSloot's ads, he said.
"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, Dylan Stone, did not lose his job because of VanderSloot's advertisements but prior to the ads, and that he was confused about the timing.
Details of the settlement have not been disclosed, and Williamson ordered both parties to pay their own attorney fees.
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