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KSTP Hit With $1 Million Defamation Verdict

A Minnesota jury has awarded a holistic healer $1 million, stemming from a March 2009 report on KSTP Minneapolis that said the healer had “de-prescribed” anti-anxiety medicine to a patient, who then tried to commit suicide.

Reports the Star-Tribune:

The gist of KSTP’s story was that Susan Anderson, then known as Susan Wahl, a Hudson doctor of naturopathy, had “de-prescribed” anti-anxiety medication to Cheryl Blaha. Cheryl Blaha then claimed to KSTP in interviews that she had tried to commit suicide as a result of being weaned from the medicine by Anderson.

The story was reported by KSTP’s Jennifer Griswold, who declined to comment Monday night when reached by phone, saying any reaction would have to come from Hannah. Hannah said he is not sure whether KSTP plans to issue any statement regarding the verdict.

Naturopathy is an alternative medicine based on the belief that vital energy or vital forces help the body regulate such things as metabolism, reproduction and growth.

In her suit, Anderson claimed medical records indicated that Blaha’s own medical doctor had reduced the medication and that there was no proof of the alleged suicide attempt, said Patrick Tierney, Anderson’s lawyer.

“That was certainly the heart of it,” Tierney said Monday night. “KSTP bought [Blaha’s story] hook, line and sinker, and that’s what this case was about.”

The Star-Tribune believes the one million represents the largest verdict ever in a Minnesota defamation lawsuit.

The jury found “actual malice” on the part of KSTP, an ABC affiliate. The Hubbard station will appeal the case.

When we were reporting our cover story on investigative reporting recently, we heard from a number of local broadcasters who said that the heavy costs of legally backstopping investigative reporting contributed to the demise of such enterprise stories.

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.