Freedom, on the oligarchs’ terms: What a billionaire’s nuisance suit reveals about American plutocracy


The case in question involved the liberal magazine Mother Jones and Frank VanderSloot, a GOP mega-donor (who, judging by his name, may also be a villain in a long-lost Charles Dickens story). You can read MoJo’s recap of the case here, but the quick-and-dirty summary goes like this: In 2012, VanderSloot sued MoJo for defamation over a piece about his company’s support for a pro-Romney super PAC that also happened to mention his history opposing gay rights. MoJo fought back. VanderSloot lost.

This is just one small example. What’s more, it could have turned out much worse. It’s easy to imagine a scenario in which these kinds of bullying lawsuits, these attempts to stifle speech by roping journalists into a war of attrition, have their intended effect. It’s easy to imagine an editor or a publisher deciding not to publish an article that criticizes a politically active billionaire, or an influential corporation. And thanks to the Supreme Court, a vindictive 1 percenter could have a cash-strapped politician on his side, too.

That’s the kind of ersatz egalitarianism that increasingly defines American politics. But don’t worry too much; according to Justice Kennedy, this state of affairs doesn’t even appear to be corrupt. And I’d hazard a guess that VanderSloot is right there with him.