The transcript of Anderson Cooper’s deposition, taken as part of a multi-million-dollar defamation lawsuit against CNN, was obtained by Puck’s Eriq Gardner, providing a view of behind-the-scenes operations at the network.
“I got my hands on Cooper’s sealed deposition, a transcript stretching several hundred pages that provides details about CNN’s newsgathering policies and its star anchor’s sensitivities,” wrote Gardner. “It’s no stretch to say that CNN could face a nine-figure damages verdict should it lose big at trial next spring.”
The deposition should have been filed under seal, but the clerk misfiled it in the court docket, where it is publicly accessible.
The defamation suit was filed by a Florida doctor, Michael Black, who claims that CNN’s reporting on infant deaths at St. Mary’s Medical Center, where Black practiced, was mischaracterized. But depending on what the jury will be allowed to hear, the purview of the case could extend to the methods CNN uses to vet stories and how it affects reporting.
Note to America’s court clerks: If you forget to seal a secret deposition, @eriqgardner WILL find it…. https://t.co/XcwkwXQvaz
— Matthew Belloni (@MattBelloni) September 6, 2022
Cooper was forced to answer a number of questions about the process, known as “The Triad.”
Cooper and CNN reported elevated mortality rates for open-heart surgery at the hospital – “three times the national average” they claimed – a statistic that Black claims is deeply flawed and dishonest.
Black alleges that CNN ignored warnings about its methodology, which cherry-picks data by spotlighting high-risk procedures. He claims that there was no statistically significant difference between St. Mary’s track record when compared to the national average.
As a result of the devastating CNN feature, St. Mary’s shut down its pediatric cardiac surgery program.
Judge Richard Oftedal has made a series of decisions in the case that mostly favor Black, which prompted CNN to seek immediate appellate review. This has caused the case to drag on, long past the original 2016 filing.
In Cooper’s deposition, he defended the network’s collection, review, and interpretation of information.
Regarding CNN’s process, Gardner wrote, “The network’s most adventurous journalism is reviewed rigorously prior to publication by a triumvirate of senior editors, Standards & Practices employees, and company attorneys.”
Gardner described testimony from Cooper and other CNN staffers about their reliance on this system:
Cooper testified that two of his prior employers, ABC and Channel One, didn’t have a system quite like this, and that it gave him confidence in CNN’s journalism.
So much confidence, in fact, that Cooper said he wouldn’t interfere or take liberties with reporting that had come to him pre-vetted. “My getting involved with [the review] will only gum up the works because so many eyes had looked at it,” he told Locke in January, adding on the second day of questioning that the system impacts how he interacts with those who appear on his show. “Normally, I would just ask the question that I’m interested in about something, and the reporter wouldn’t know in advance what I’m asking, and they would just answer it. The fact that there is an answer here [in this script,] I’m assuming that meant it had gone to the Triad process.”
…Other CNN editorial staffers also nodded in their depositions to their reliance on this pre-publication review process, which prompted Black’s lawyers in March to make a push for access to “Triad” communications that the network has been insisting are shielded by attorney-client privilege. And if CNN won’t give up these sensitive conversations, Black’s team wants Judge Oftedal to prohibit CNN from pointing to the Triad as a demonstration of its care in vetting the hospital exposé. “This is a textbook use of attorney-client privilege as both a sword and shield,” Black’s lawyers argued.
Dr. Black has retained the legal services of the same husband-and-wife litigation team, Tom Clarke and Libby Locke, who are representing Dominion Voting Systems in a $1.6 billion defamation case against Fox News and some of its on-air personalities.
As Gardner noted, “CNN, just like Fox News in its showdown against Dominion, will have to consult its insurers and take a measure of the state of play as the trial nears.”
In other words, both networks could be advised by their attorneys to seek a settlement rather than exposing themselves to the unknown, potentially explosive outcome of a trial. This would be especially true at CNN, where the new parent company Warner Bros. Discovery is restructuring and adjusting the style of its news coverage towards more objective journalism, as opposed to the over-the-top opinion commentary they have become known for.
The media, of course, want to focus on the lawsuit against Fox News, but the CNN case is at least as intriguing.
On a more esoteric note, Gardner quotes Cooper defending his work, saying that he is “deeply involved, you know, all day long every day, in learning and research and stuff. It’s just not for lengthy yearlong investigations.”
Cooper also reportedly objects to being called a “host,” rather than an “anchor.”
“I feel it makes it seem like I don’t do anything all day long and I’m just sitting around for the camera to turn on,” he said.
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