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The irony of a TV news network that wants to seal public records and unveil a reporter’s sources is not lost on Bonnie M. Anderson. Anderson, a former CNN vice president in Atlanta who is suing the company for discrimination and wrongful termination, said she was astonished when CNN attorneys demanded the names of all the confidential sources in her book, “News Flash: Journalism, Infotainment and the Bottom-Line Business of Broadcast News.” CNN attorneys also have sought to seal all discovery in her federal discrimination suit against the network, Anderson said. CNN also has asked for her personal computer’s hard drive and wants to review all drafts of her book, a critique of what Anderson believes to be the deterioration of TV news into vapid entertainment. In her book, Anderson lobs hardballs at all the major networks. But the former CNN executive singles out the cable network as “a case study” for industrywide problems, among them a lack of race, gender, age, ethnic and religious diversity and an emphasis on titillation and flash rather than substance. The blunt eyewitness descriptions in “News Flash” of allegedly discriminatory policies and behavior prompted CNN lawyers to demand Anderson’s sources. CNN’s unsuccessful effort to seal the record while it is demanding Anderson’s sources and notes springs from the journalist’s efforts to reclaim her job as vice president of recruiting and talent development. Anderson, a Cuban-American raised in Colombia, has worked as a correspondent in South America and the Middle East for the Miami Herald and NBC. She was a national correspondent for CNN/USA from 1992 to 1996 before becoming first a managing editor at CNN en Espanol and then a CNN vice president. CNN has denied discriminating against Anderson or — as alleged in the suit — segregating its on-air staff by race and ethnicity. The network has countersued in an action that CNN attorneys originally filed under seal. A federal magistrate deemed the suit public last month. Anderson said she was “absolutely stunned that a news organization that has fought these tactics since its creation would even think about employing them against a journalist. CNN would never reveal sources or turn over drafts of material or videotape that was not aired, and rightfully so,” she said. “I would fight to defend their right to keep that material private,” she added. “This tells me this news organization no longer values true journalistic ethics. It also tells me they’re simply trying to intimidate me.” RACIAL SEGREGATION ALLEGED In her suit, Anderson v. CNN, No. 1:03CV2482 (N.D. Ga. Aug. 19, 2003), Anderson claims that she was laid off in 2001 because she opposed a marketing strategy that tried to boost ratings by hiring young, white males to appear on camera as anchors or correspondents. Anderson accused CNN of “racially segregating” its news divisions by tailoring the race and sex of its anchors to audience demographics. Anderson’s suit said that when she complained, she was told by CNN Headline News Executive Vice President Teya Ryan, “Don’t rock the boat,” and by Chief News Executive Eason Jordan, “Keep below the radar.” In court pleadings, CNN has denied those allegations. CNN News Group President Jim Walton did not return calls for comment. Anderson claimed that when CNN eliminated her job, she was soon replaced by a higher-paid, younger white man whom she had trained. David A. Neuman, her replacement, was a former head of Disney and Touchstone Television and a decade younger than Anderson, then 46. Anderson said in her suit that CNN also laid her off and eliminated her position in retaliation for an earlier sexual harassment claim she made against her CNN en Espanol supervisor. Anderson filed that harassment claim with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 1999. CNN reached a confidential settlement with her the same year, after which she was promoted to vice president of recruiting and talent development. In that post, Anderson said she “saw things that were unethical, unprincipled, immoral, and … potentially illegal.” According to Anderson’s suit, CNN en Espanol’s anchors are predominantly foreign-born Hispanics; CNN International’s anchors are foreign-born and primarily from India or of Indian descent. At CNN Headline News, CNN USA and the Money Network, the “vast majority” of the anchors, particularly in prime time, are white, according to the suit. “The corporate defendants have succumbed to this segregated arrangement as the result of a marketing strategy and competitive concerns about market share with other cable news networks that have predominantly Caucasian and youthful anchors and that have a larger market share of the viewers” than CNN, the suit alleges — a violation of federal fair employment laws. In her book, Anderson was more blunt. She called CNN in its early years “primarily a network of white people putting together news for white viewers.” And she said that her personal goal as vice president of recruiting was to bring greater on- and off-air diversity to the network, although not at the expense of the network’s “non-minorities.” Anderson also claimed that, under former CNN Chairman Tom Johnson and later CNN News Group President Walton, CNN began to hire minorities, but only to fill management quotas. In 2001, that policy shifted dramatically, she wrote, with the arrival of former Fox network executive Jamie Kellner and Garth Ancier, a former president of NBC Entertainment. In “News Flash,” Anderson recounts one meeting with Ancier in which he informed her, “We have enough minorities.” He ordered her to hire “younger, more attractive anchors.” In court pleadings, CNN, Turner Broadcasting and AOL Time Warner have denied that the company segregated CNN’s news divisions to cater to audience demographics. While acknowledging that Ancier sent an e-mail stating, “We need younger, more attractive anchors (male & female) who project credibility,” CNN attorneys denied that Ancier had instructed Anderson not to recruit minorities. Walton did not return calls for comment. CNN attorney John J. Dalton, a partner at Troutman Sanders, referred a reporter to CNN’s court pleadings. Those pleadings hold that CNN and network executives “acted lawfully and in good faith at all times.” CNN CALLED HYPOCRITICAL Referring to CNN’s attempt to file in secret the network’s counterclaim, all documents referencing the sexual harassment settlement and its motion to seal, Anderson’s attorney, Edward D. Buckley III of Atlanta’s Buckley & Klein, said, “The court system is not a Star Chamber in which cases are to be litigated and tried in secret. It is a public forum. And it’s hypocritical for a member of the press to insist that its matters be handled in secret by a court system.” The lawyer continued, “I find it more than ironic that CNN, which touts itself as a defender of the First Amendment, would make such an overbroad and oppressive discovery demand and expect the courts to uphold it.” Said Anderson, “I didn’t write the book because they dismissed me. I wrote the book about stuff I was trying to fix when I was on the inside and they wouldn’t listen.” But in court pleadings originally filed under seal, CNN attorneys stated that they sought confidentiality so as not to violate the network’s 1999 settlement with Anderson over her sexual harassment claim. “CNN keeps its commitments,” one CNN brief stated. That settlement required confidentiality about both the existence of and terms of the agreement, as well as Anderson’s allegations, according to one network brief. Under the umbrella of that settlement, CNN lawyers have attempted to seal a network countersuit against Anderson, as well as all supporting briefs, CNN’s motion to seal the public court record, a discovery schedule and all filings by Anderson referencing her 1999 complaint. CNN’s counterclaim asserts that in suing the network for retaliating against her and disclosing the suit in her book, Anderson violated the settlement agreement. In doing so, according to network briefs, Anderson damaged CNN’s reputation, which the settlement was designed to protect. In May, U.S. Magistrate Alan J. Baverman refused to grant CNN permission to seal the counterclaims or any records referencing the settlement. A reporter’s privilege to protect anonymous sources doesn’t extend to reporters who initiate damage suits, said Dalton, in his sole comment about the case. “Ms. Anderson brought a lawsuit, chose to write about it and publish a book about the lawsuit’s allegations,” he said. “As a plaintiff, she has an obligation to respond to the defendants’ rights to test her conclusions. Using the reporter’s privilege under these circumstances is inconsistent, harms the privilege when legitimately invoked and risks watering it down for others.” Editor’s note: For more on Bonnie Anderson, see Fulton County Daily Report ‘s profile, From the Ashes of War, a Journalist Grew.

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