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.

"A self-proclaimed natural doctor seemed to have all the answers," the teaser began. "But did the doctor's orders almost turn deadly?... Now 5 Eyewitness News is asking the tough questions."

Anderson's receptionist, Janet Reppe, heard the promos and couldn't believe what was happening, so she called her boss.

Alarmed and confused, Anderson turned to a former neighbor, St. Paul attorney Bill Tilton, who was stunned by what he called "ambush journalism at its most scurrilous."

"KSTP decided that they had gotten the new, Midwestern Dr. Kevorkian or something, that this natural practitioner in Hudson was leading Minnesotans to their death," Tilton recalls. "It was ridiculous."

Tilton fired off a letter to the station alerting them that their story was incorrect. He chastised the station for failing to return to Anderson's ranch for an in-person interview.

In response to the letter, and just a couple of hours before the story aired on the 10 p.m. news, KSTP sat down with Anderson at Tilton's law office.

Tilton warned them that the story wasn't true, that Cheryl was mentally ill and had severe problems before she ever met Anderson. Anderson denied ever telling Cheryl to wean off the Klonopin.

None of that slowed KSTP down. The report pointed out that naturopathic medicine is unregulated in Wisconsin and centered on Cheryl's "story of pain, anxiety, naturopathy, and a suicide attempt."

Anderson didn't return home until 9:30 p.m., half an hour before the broadcast, and considered skipping the story. But she watched, and as she sat through the program, became emotional.

"The hype was more important than the truth," Anderson says. "I just cried and cried and cried."

Anderson fumed on her blog the next morning.

"The jackals at KSTP5 news tried to defame us with a story of near death by using a seriously mentally ill former client of ours," Anderson wrote.

A week later, she was still indignant about the report.

"No one has the right to walk into your life and make false claims and outright lies and fabrications to drum up sympathy for a self-proclaimed master victim, nor do the jackals of the news media have the right to publish it without even the most minimal foundation," Anderson blogged.

Tilton referred Anderson to his friend Pat Tierney, a veteran St. Paul attorney.

"It's impossible for a lawyer who represents a defamation victim to know whether it's a good case or not until we know what the TV station knew," Tierney says. "It's a guessing game. You have to size up clients, and it's a gut call which case you take."

Tierney decided to take Anderson's case on, believing that she had been wronged by KSTP. He began drafting a summons and complaint.

But before Tierney could serve the station or the Blahas, Anderson was served with a lawsuit herself.

Cheryl Blaha filed a complaint in St. Croix County alleging nine counts against Susan Anderson. She claimed invasion of privacy as a result of Anderson's blog posts and alleged that Anderson misrepresented herself as a "doctor."

Tierney thought it telling that the couple didn't sue for defamation.

"They would have had to prove that what Sue said wasn't true," Tierney says. "They couldn't prove that so they tried invasion of privacy."

Anderson fought the Blahas all the way to court in April 2011. Cheryl waived her right to a jury trial and Judge Eric Lundell heard testimony in the case for two days before ruling in Anderson's favor.

In his findings of fact, Lundell found that Cheryl "has a history of psychiatric and psychological problems beginning at age 12 and has received ongoing psychological and psychiatric treatment ever since she was a teenager."

He found that Anderson didn't de-prescribe Blaha's Klonopin or misrepresent herself as a doctor. Ominously for KSTP, Judge Lundell declared that the station "falsely accused Susan Anderson of being responsible for Cheryl Blaha's April 2007 suicide attempt."

It was a total victory for Anderson.

"Every single detail, every single count, every single issue," Anderson boasts. "We won it hands down."

As the Wisconsin lawsuit began winding down, Anderson went on the offensive, filing a lawsuit against KSTP and the Blahas alleging defamation. That meant another round of bruising depositions.

Cheryl Blaha refused to state her name for the record when Pat Tierney tried to take her deposition in Anderson's lawsuit against KSTP.

"Oh, come on," Blaha protested in her attorney's office.

It was the first time she had been face to face with Tierney since the Wisconsin lawsuit was adjudicated.

"We've been coming to this same party for years," Blaha said, calling the process "depressing."

Wound up, Blaha blew off her own attorney when he asked her to state her name.

"No," Blaha shot back. "You got it. Don't you got it? We've been meeting for years. You haven't got my name yet?"

Blaha bristled when Tierney threatened to take her before Dakota County Judge Richard Spicer for sanctions.

"Before you fluff your feathers too much, Tierney, I'm going to tell you why you won that case," Blaha spat.

She launched into a rambling speech claiming she was destined to lose her lawsuit against Susan Anderson due to a previous dispute she had in the court over a child custody case before Judge Lundell.

"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."

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.

Sitting in a modest office chair, Anderson says she sued KSTP not in hopes of receiving a big payday, but in pursuit of the truth. Even though KSTP offered her half a million dollars to settle on the eve of the trial, Anderson says, she wanted to present her side of the story.

"I wanted to stand up in open court and get my moment of, 'Listen, this isn't true and you can't just make stuff up for hype and you can't hurt people.'" 

Show Pages
My Voice Nation Help

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.


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.


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 !!!


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...


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.


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.


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.


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!!


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 !!!


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.


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.