Anderson Cooper’s Secret Deposition & CNN’s “Triad” Misfire

anderson cooper
Anderson Cooper and CNN's entire fact-checking apparatus are central to a heart-stopping legal drama. Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images
Eriq Gardner
September 6, 2022

While Fox News prepares to defend itself against Dominion Voting’s $1.6 billion libel suit, its rival network, CNN, is facing a lesser-known but equally heart-stopping legal drama of its own. The allegations implicate not only CNN, which is in the middle of being downsized under new management, but also connect to star anchor Anderson Cooper and the entire fact-checking apparatus of the news operation, itself. 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. It’s no stretch to say that CNN could face a nine-figure damages verdict should it lose big at trial next spring.

The saga dates back to 2016, when a popular West Palm Beach heart surgeon named Dr. Michael Black sued CNN and star medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen over the network’s reporting on infant deaths at St. Mary’s Medical Center, where Black worked. CNN had reported, both online and on Cooper’s show, that the mortality rate for open-heart surgery at the hospital was “three times the national average”—an eye-catching statistic that Black alleges is deeply flawed and dishonest. Black claims that experts had repeatedly warned CNN that its methodology effectively cherry-picked data by focusing only on the highest-risk procedures, and that CNN ignored these warnings. Indeed, according to Black, there was no statistically significant difference between St. Mary’s “secret deaths,” as CNN reported, and the national average. Nevertheless, St. Mary responded to the bad press by shutting down its pediatric cardiac surgery program. (CNN settled a separate lawsuit in Georgia brought by the hospital’s former chief executive, David Carbone, who was forced to resign after the exposé was published.)

The judge overseeing the case, Richard Oftedal, has made a string of decisions largely in favor of Black, prompting CNN to seek immediate appellate review, which is one of the reasons why this case has been dragging on for six years. For example, CNN unsuccessfully attempted to assert journalist privilege to shield conversations with one of its key sources. Most recently, Oftedal gave Black permission to amend his suit to seek punitive damages. By Florida law, such a penalty is only available when a defendant is guilty of intentional misconduct or gross negligence. CNN, represented by a half-dozen lawyers led by Ballard Spahr partner Charles Tobin, has argued that this means only the most extreme cases of wanton misbehavior.