KSTP's million-dollar mistake

Station loses biggest defamation case in Minnesota history

Cameras rolling, the news crew pulled up to Susan Anderson's horse ranch on a cold March afternoon. KSTP reporter Jennifer Griswold charged up to the property with a producer and cameraman in tow. Griswold, a fit 31-year-old whose soft Midwestern features project a younger image on screen, had driven from KSTP's newsroom to Hudson, Wisconsin, in pursuit of a sensational story.

The station had received a tip on its hotline from a local woman, Cheryl Blaha, who shared a camera-ready tale of life and death. Nearly two weeks after sitting down with Blaha and her husband, Griswold barged unannounced into the Healing Arts Wellcare Center to report Anderson's side of the story.

"Are you Sue?" Griswold asked a tan, fit woman in her fifties, a Blackfeet and Dakota Native American.

KSTP reporter Jennifer Griswold (above) accused Susan Anderson (bottom) of causing Cheryl Blaha to attempt suicide
courtesy of the Dakota County court
KSTP reporter Jennifer Griswold (above) accused Susan Anderson (bottom) of causing Cheryl Blaha to attempt suicide
Susan Anderson turned to defamation attorney Pat Tierney for help with KSTP
Mark N. Kartarik
Susan Anderson turned to defamation attorney Pat Tierney for help with KSTP

"Yeah," Anderson answered, explaining that she was with a client.

"Sue," Griswold interrupted, "do you know that a woman almost died because of the advice you gave her?"


An attractive blonde with a nervous smile, Cheryl Blaha delivered her second child, Brock, in October 2006 after a difficult pregnancy. Birthing Brock taxed Blaha's body and left her with severe anxiety, panic attacks, and pain.

Her husband, Eric, a skinny software engineer at Medtronic, called Anderson, a practioner of holistic medicine, on a friend's recommendation. Anderson initially declined to see Cheryl, who had a reputation for being "hysterical," according to Anderson.

"She lived in this town for a long time, and I'm from this town," Anderson says. "We're fully aware of what each other's personalities are like."

Despite her initial refusal, Anderson softened when Eric told her that he was concerned Cheryl might "kill the baby."

Eric denies ever fearing for his child's safety, but no one disputes that Cheryl was in desperate need of help. She was crying constantly and threatening suicide. Anderson began seeing Cheryl in February 2007.

At their first meeting, Cheryl signed a form acknowledging, "I will always seek medical advice for medical treatment."

The waiver also says that "diagnosis or treatment of any kind of disease is outside the scope and practice of natural health."

Cheryl met with Anderson about once a month until her final appointment in July 2007. Anderson says she ended her sessions with Cheryl because she had taught Cheryl everything she could.

"If I teach you something I'm not going to reteach it to you," Anderson says. "Especially if I don't think you flunked."

At their last meeting, Anderson remembers, Cheryl gave the naturopath a big hug.

"Thank you for everything you did," Blaha said, according to Anderson. "Without this, I wouldn't have survived."


After KSTP's Mike Maybay hung up with Cheryl Blaha, he went to investigative news director Sam Zeff to discuss the story. Zeff directed Maybay to "get the medical records." Zeff later testified that he cannot recall anything else about the reporting, although he did remember snacks at investigative meetings.

Maybay, a producer at the station for 16 years, screened the story for broadcast. Cheryl claimed that Anderson diagnosed her with "baby blues" and told her to get off Klonopin, an anti-anxiety drug, because it was hard on her kidneys.

That allegedly sent Cheryl into a downward spiral. Her depression culminated in April 2007, around Easter, with her threatening to jump in front of a truck on Highway 35 in Hudson.

"I'm taking my life right now," Cheryl told her husband. "I can't do this anymore. You raise the kids. I can't do this. I can't live like this."

Eric claims to have called Anderson to ask for advice on how to deal with his suicidal wife. He alleges that Anderson told him to "let her go."

Instead, Eric went after Cheryl, who was pacing in their driveway.

Eric took his wife back inside the house and comforted her. She didn't get anywhere near the highway.

The couple continued seeing Anderson and kept the alleged suicide attempt to themselves, not mentioning it to the naturopath or Cheryl's regular doctor. Then, a year and a half later, the Blahas reached out to KSTP and shared the story of the alleged suicide attempt, which they blamed on Anderson.

Cheryl turned over 10 pages of medical documents beginning in February 2007 to the TV station in support of her story. But Cheryl's medical records didn't match her assertions.

During her interview with KSTP, Cheryl claimed that she went off Klonopin without telling her doctor. But the medical records showed that her physician, Dr. Mark Stannard, knew she was quitting the drug.

"She may decide to wean down her Klonopin as she deems necessary," reads one entry from Stannard, dated April 16, 2007.

KSTP also knew that Cheryl had a long history of psychiatric problems. She told the station that she had previously been institutionalized in a psychiatric ward and that she was suicidal before she ever met Susan Anderson.

After the station sat down with Cheryl, they didn't pursue a similar interview with Anderson. Instead, Griswold showed up at Anderson's ranch and accused her of causing a woman to "nearly die."

Anderson asked the station to bring Cheryl and get a waiver authorizing Anderson to discuss her former client. Griswold never returned. Instead, KSTP began airing promos.

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28 comments
Bigbadbeans
Bigbadbeans

KSTP is an absolute disgraceful joke of a "news" agency. Their No. 1 priority on every story is to embarrass and humiliate with no regard for the truth. If our society would band together against this shock and awe tabloid journalism, stations like the pitiful KSTPs of the world would be forced to practice at least a small bit of journalistic integrety. Alas, there are too many fear and hate-mongering folks (...KSTP's mission statement...) that buy into this type of trash reporting and provide an audience. KSTP = TMZ.

oompaloompa
oompaloompa

KSTP is awful. They don't do real journalism, they go for sensationalism and shock value and don't bother trying to get the actual facts.

Amystorbak
Amystorbak

I am upset by the headline that implies one can never take mentally ill people at their word. Some of the most productive and creative people have been mentally ill including inventors such as Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, and political leaders like Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill.

It is very unfortunate that Ms. Blaha did not recieve care that helped her. After my own experience with abuse and violence in the mental health system and subsequent mostly successful self-care using supplements, I applaud Ms. Blaha's attempt to to reach out and work on her wellness with naturopathy.

It seems that Ms. Anderson noticed her client's desire to spend more time with her. When the naturopath refused to re-teach things, she might have helped her client find support elsewhere. It seems evident that Ms. Blaha might have benefitted from a wellness-centered study group, daycare for her child, and ongoing social support.

Practitioners serving traumatized people (a term I prefer rather than mentally ill) need to develop skills in facilitating a non-traumatizing end to the care relationship. The traumatized person may have very few healthy, caring relationships and may come to need the friendship or advocacy of their care provider.

Ms. Anderson is to be commended for pursuing courageous work in treating those others have given up on. It seems this destructive outcome could have been avoided.

Amy Storbakken

Amystor78
Amystor78

We seem to like to childishly blame and villify one individual or another rather than looking at the system they are operating in. This is the maturity level of the audience KSTP is playing to, and the level Citypages is playing to as well. We like to hold up the individual journalist for ridicule, as if there is no pressure to create one-sided sensationalistic half truth stories for an infantile audience. Did the jounalist get to do this story her way or did her story get hacked to pieces by editors and folks at KSTP who need to sell ads? Has anyone noticed how many TV ads are purchased by Big Pharma industires as opposed to naturopaths?

Daniel Mitchell
Daniel Mitchell

Hey Tweeples; Here is a story you will want to read and share with everyone !!!! "THE MILLION $ MISTAKE !

Dan M
Dan M

I have sent this out on my LINKED IN, FACEBOOK and TWITTER ACCOUNTS, this is just an amazing story... KSTP and Griswold really messed up big on this one !!!

mini
mini

Sam Zeff the former investigative news director has a history of of destruction. How on earth did anyone hire this guy here in the first place? He has been asked to resign or fired from numerous positions. He has been accused of stalking women, teenage girls, defamation, racism, and just blatant lying. He just started a position in St Louis. I wonder how long it will take him until they have a lawsuit too. The idiot in charge, Sam Zeff later testified that he cannot recall anything else about the reporting, although he did remember snacks at investigative meetings. This alone shows what a piece of crap he is. Below are some links to the troubles this jackass has caused. http://kansasmeadowlark.com/20... http://www.minnpost.com/braubl... http://www.minnesotabrown.com/... http://blogs.citypages.com/blo... http://www.startribune.com/tem...

Btimra2
Btimra2

Griswold has to be a world class moron not to have checked the facts let alone whoever was her superior. The news programs really do live in their own little world and are out of touch with reality. Each day they get closer to Anchorman, and are actually pretty good entertainment for the comic factor alone.

Tadwagner
Tadwagner

Any agency claming to be a "News" agency that does NOT do their due diligence as shwon here deserves to pay big money for its incompetence. Too bad the bill wasn't higher.

Gary Wolf
Gary Wolf

Congrats to a great lawyer with a just cause. Congrats to Ms.Anderson for just plain guts.

Since the press has become an arm of corporations, it has lost its professionalism. Without ethics, it is, in fact, not a profession. Shame on KSTP and its reporter. Too bad they do not have to earn a license. Then, it could be taken away.

Dan M
Dan M

That is a great idea Gary, any and all news media should be forced to earn a license to tell the news in any manner or form: print or on TV. When things like this happen and how many out there have had similar experiences with no recourse either, then both the reporter and their superiors should all have to pay fines and yes, have the licenses suspended or revoked, whichever is more relevant in the given situation at the time. I don't know when it happened, but news media not only lost its ethics and Griswold is just one more example of that, but they also lost their IMPARTIALITY to report the "WHOLE STORY" not just one side of it. It used to be that you could contact the press and they would investigate both sides to a story and report it that way in full, now as Griswold's actions and KSTP actions have shown, they are after the "quick fix" the something that will keep the nightly news alive and just might get them recognized for an anchor person in the future. They want the fast story and the quick buck, but don't want to have to work for it. This court decision has sent a strong message to them and all news media. You better have ALL the details before you report This is outright shameful what they did here. They broke every moral and ethical code out there with their actions and they lost their sense of true investigative reporting by choosing sides herein. They deserved what happened here and 100x more, but at least now the media nationwide is on alert "You had darn well better have your facts straight and have a full view of both sides of the story in pain staking detail before you report a story" YOU WILL BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR YOUR ACTIONS !!!!! Now if we could just get the politicians to understand this, we'd be in great shape !!!

Hey, maybe Griswold can be a weather person?? LOL

Have a wonderful weekend Dan

Macho Muchacho
Macho Muchacho

Good job, Pat Tierney. A solid "atta-boy" for you.

Healthynow
Healthynow

Susan cured my Crohn's disease and arthritis 10 years ago. It breaks my heart to hear of the senseless pain she endured in the face of all the good she has done. She's a true healer.

Lisa Anderson
Lisa Anderson

Mental illness, depression, postpartum depression.... all are very serious and personal issues in the life of those experiencing such illness. Why would a news program decide to do a story such as this for the sensational effect without doing the research and background work prior to the 'surprise' interview with Susan Anderson? Obviously, this reporter (allowed to do so by the station) was not intersted in the reality of this situation , but rather acted without responsilbity as if she was on an MTV "reality" show. Thank you, Mr. Pratt, for showing that integrity in journalism (be it print or TV news) is far more important than sloppy sensationalist journalism.

Swang
Swang

Dr. Su . . . I know this wasn't easy on you or your family but I am very proud that you stood your ground so that your side of the story could be heard! You've done many great things for many people and for that we will be forever gratefull! Thank you for your strength and perseverance!!

Skywalker
Skywalker

So your wife is suffering from post-partum depression - and you go to naturopath?!?!?!

Bob Frost
Bob Frost

Three quick thoughts if I may. 1. A TV station in search of ratings - the very definition of ruthless. 2. There's no job description more willing to step on toes than "attractive young TV reporter who smells a million dollar salary in her future as an anchor in a big market, knows she needs a couple of big stories to prove her chops, and knows she has limited time to generate those stories." 3. Hitler's speaking ability was obviously not the sole reason for the Holocaust. As the book "Hitler's Willing Executioners," among others, notes, anti-Semitism was deeply embedded in German life. It was part-and-parcel of life in Germany, in all of Europe, for centuries. Martin Luther was as viciously anti-Semitic as a man could be.

Pat Berle
Pat Berle

Reporters are always looking for a "Scary" story to pull in viewers. After working for 17 years in local TV you see young reporters drooling at a story they think is big and could go national. They're not interested in covering city council meetings (well not until recently), they all want to make their mark by getting the "Big" story and it's hard to blame their eager work ethics. The blame falls squarely on the Hubbards who gave the authority to the news directors and/or producers who should have demanded more research before airing questionable material. Hubbards can delegate authority but they can't relinquish responsibility, that just the way life is. This will make the reporting more accurate in the future, but eventually it will happen again as this becomes a distant memory. I believe the lawsuit was necessary, unfortunately after getting sued, ALL media attorneys will hold tighter leashes on what reporters can investigate and that only weakens the watchdog role that we need journalists to play.

Susan Anderson
Susan Anderson

To those who put politics and money and notoriety before the lives and well being of humans, you will live with that forever. By not checking on the truth of this sad situation by simply picking up the phone and checking out the story, Dr. Helen Healy, endorsed this lie and added intentionally and horribly to the pain of this woman. The "first do no harm" clause of our industry was thrown to the wind. Without the politics of this, there never would have been any of this on TV. That is a piece of history that needs a light shined on it too.

We all need to do better now, care and compassion need to come first!! Understanding and love go much further than AIR-TIME!! We are all the same only different - none better or more deserving than another. It is time to remember that.

I will do better. I hope we all learn from this and all of us together now DO BETTER. I look forward to it. Dr. Su

Susan Anderson
Susan Anderson

Thank you for helping shed a light on the truth - David and Goliath, an old story but a real one for sure. My industry is a David - complementary or natural medicine is a gift to those who choose it. It is a miracle for many, it saved my life and I will share it forever with anyone who seeks it. We see a new day and an opportunity to share nature with everyone - she does take very good care of us - always did!!

Thank you, City Pages and Greg Pratt. A very special thank you to Pat Tierney and Bill Tilton, you were there when no one else was and that means to world to me!! I love you and my girls for sticking with me the WHOLE TIME!!! Namaste' Dr. Su

Lindsay R.
Lindsay R.

Congratulations to Susan Anderson! Shame on KSTP and Jennifer Griswold, it is high time that superficial shock value media gets a reality check. I can only hope that our local news reporters take heed and hold themselves to reporting with integrity. Great story City Pages!

Dan M
Dan M

The Truth will always come out, and this time it really did. I used to like watching KSTP news on TV, but after these actions and lack of respect for investigative reporting.... I'm a WCCO fan now ! Way to go Dr SU !!!

Craig Stellmacher
Craig Stellmacher

Any reporter or news source is capable of this.

There is fine work at both WCCO and KSTP too; and WCCO previously brought you the infamous Chinese-Dog-Meat story... The lesson is both stories could have used another day of reporting and checking and would have had opposite outcomes. Do reporters and news providers want to take that step?

Dan M
Dan M

HI Craig, very true indeed. I was trying to be a little ruing on KSTP by saying that, now that you mention it, I do seem to recall something on that story from Wcco too. Both stories could have had better outcomes had people not been so impatient for a "good story" and actually taken the time to do some investigative reporting. I hope news people all over read this story (and the WCCO one too) they could all use some better training and that goes for the CEO's and managers who claim to "stand behind" them as well. This was very wrong what they did, they went after Dr Su like a vampire goes after blood with no true understanding of the word "INVESTIGATIVE" and that is wrong ! I used to believe the news reporting was fair and impartial, but this is just one more example of that not always being the truth. They have their agendas too and now we all know it once again.

KellyinMN
KellyinMN

Good for Susan Anderson! It's a difficult fight when you feel you are having to speak poorly of a person who has a psychological illness in order to fight the real issue, but KSTP needed to own up or pay up for their blatant lie's that ruined her reputation.

 
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