KSTP's million-dollar mistake

Station loses biggest defamation case in Minnesota history

"Cheryl," her attorney cut in. "Can I stop you here?"

"No," Blaha answered, elaborating that she "never cared about winning." She said she sued Anderson to hold her accountable.

"She is one of those people in history that are wonderful speakers," Blaha declared of Anderson, stunning the audience by citing Martin Luther King and Adolf Hitler. King used his powers for good, Cheryl said, so "we have a holiday for him." Hitler, by contrast, "told an entire country to kill all the Jews, and they did because he was a wonderful speaker."

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

Tierney adjourned the deposition after Blaha called Anderson a "quack," but saw it as further proof that Blaha was not only mentally ill but also incapable of taking responsibility for her own actions.

How could she blame Judge Lundell for costing her that trial? Tierney asks. "She was the one who waived the jury. I think she needed someone to blame."


Susan Anderson v. Hubbard Communications went to trial last Halloween. Anderson was stunned when Cheryl Blaha walked into the courtroom.

"What kind of harm did they do to that woman by broadcasting her delusion?" Anderson wondered. "From this vibrant woman that I left to the woman who showed up in the courtroom probably 30 pounds lighter, looked 30 years older."

Blaha's appearance forced Tierney to revise his court strategy to avoid the appearance of beating up on a sick woman.

"I'd planned to have her on the stand for a few hours but questioned her for 10 to 15 minutes because she looked so terrible," Tierney recalls.

On the stand, KSTP's reporters tried to argue that their story was accurate. But Jennifer Griswold didn't do herself any favors, Tierney recalls.

"She kind of volunteered the statement that she stood behind everything they did even today," Tierney recalls. "To come in and try to defend that, to say the records matched the story, they did themselves more harm than good."

Calling the case "as extreme as I've seen on defamation," Tierney links KSTP's report to a broader problem with television news.

"Every time you watch an investigative report nowadays they try to get the same video clip of the person running away from the camera, ducking, not wanting to be interviewed," Tierney says. "It all makes for great TV, but are those reporters trying to get to the truth, trying to find out what really happened? I don't think that's how you do it."

Although the station's reporters wouldn't discuss the story, KSTP's lawyer says the organization stands by its reporting.

"They did a fine job," says attorney Paul Hannah. "There's nothing wrong with the job that they did."

Hannah points out that nobody knows what truly happened between the Blahas and Anderson.

"If you decide in a he-said/she-said that one is telling the truth and the other is not, you come up with a different characterization of what happened," Hannah says. "They talked to people, talked to experts, talked to the participants, and came out with the best story they could."

Hannah declines to discuss "individual elements of the investigation."

The jury wasn't impressed. It came back with a verdict against KSTP for $1 million.

One incredulous juror noted that KSTP ran its promos before it ever sat down with Anderson.

"They had Susan Anderson already convicted of wrongdoing before they ever met her," says Frank Lucchesi, an engineer who does contracting with the federal government.

The jury decided that KSTP failed to do its job by not getting Blaha's full medical records, and compounded the mistake by not seeking corroboration.

"They did very little to try and verify the claims of that individual, and some of the things they did do, like pulling doctors' records, did not really substantiate her story," says William Sommers, the jury foreman. "And then when it started coming out and the holistic healer tried to say, 'Hold it, that's not correct, you need to take a look at this,' they chose not to."

It was more reminiscent of a "National Enquirer story than a real investigative report," Lucchesi says. "They took the investigation out of investigative reporting."


Susan Anderson walks through her office, past shelves lined with dozens of bottles containing natural health supplements. She proudly shows off her ranch, where horses roam and African guinea hens squawk.

"Better than guard dogs," Anderson says.

Back in her office, Anderson reflects on the entire experience, which she considers a tremendous ordeal.

"These two and a half years changed my life forever," Anderson says. "I didn't know what effect it was having on my partner, my girls."

In 2010, Anderson closed the Healing Arts Wellcare Center for a year due to depression she says was brought on by KSTP's story. Her daughter Jessica Syfko, a trainer at the University of Minnesota and a naturopath herself, testified that the piece was "devastating" for her mother.

"She had to defend herself for something that she didn't do," Syfko said. "She isolated herself on her home and her property with her animals."

Anderson says she's "slowly recovering" from the trial. KSTP initially declared its intention to appeal the verdict but quietly decided not to. The Blahas, for their part, moved out of Hudson, and stand by their claims that Anderson bears responsibility.

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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

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.

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 !!!

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.

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?

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

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.

 
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