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Did NHPR Reporting Withhold Key Details in Spofford Story?

New Hampshire Public Radio listeners were shocked by reporting that Granite Recovery Center CEO Eric Spofford was accused of sexual harassment. They may also be shocked to learn the publicly-subsidized news outlet never reported key facts when NHPR broke the story last year, according to new court filings. 

The story about the sexual harassment allegations aired over two days last March and was also the subject of NHPR web and a podcast.

Spofford is suing New Hampshire Public Radio reporter Lauren Chooljian, alleging she engaged in a biased campaign targeting the politically-connected businessman. He and his lawyers are heading to Rockingham Superior Court on Tuesday to challenge NHPR’s motion to dismiss the case. Part of his argument will be that the original radio broadcast held back facts like Spofford’s vehement denials, that New Hampshire’s attorney general was not investigating Spofford, and that a crucial witness contradicted NHPR’s reporting.

“That truth is that they knew their reporting about (Spofford) was false, or at least recklessly disregarded that falsity, but published it anyway,” Spofford’s attorney Michael Strauss wrote in a motion filed Friday.

According to Strauss, the left-leaning media outlet did not hand over copies of the radio story as it aired in March until Wednesday after weeks of legal wrangling over the discovery process. The station also tried to withhold promotional recordings.

And now, just days ahead of the hearing on NHPR’s motion to dismiss, Spofford has learned the split broadcast resulted in a misleading story presented to the listeners, Strauss wrote.

“NHPR defendants necessarily appreciated that publishing their salacious story in two parts over two days would mean that some listeners would only know part of the story,” Strauss claims.

The first day of the story’s broadcast did not include information about the New Hampshire attorney general having never received a complaint alleging Spofford engaged in sexual harassment. That would have to wait until the second day. Nor did the first day include Spofford’s legal representative issuing a denial of the accusations. That would again have to wait, according to Strauss.

More troubling, listeners were never informed that a Granite State Recovery executive challenged the facts NHPR reported on the first day. Chooljian heard from the executive after the first story aired, Strauss wrote.

“NHPR Defendant Lauren Chooljian spoke to former GRC Director of Human Resources, Lynsie Miterer, who gave information to Chooljian that cast serious doubt on the veracity of her reporting about (Spofford,)” Strauss wrote. The station never included any information from Miterer in the second broadcast, according to Strauss.

NHPR’s attorney, Sigmund Schutz, dismissed Spofford’s claims in a response to Friday’s filing. Schutz wrote there should have been no surprise that the story was broadcast.

“Given the distinctly non-secretive nature of a radio broadcast, and NHPR’s openness about being in the radio broadcasting business, it should have been patently obvious that its story had been broadcast on the radio,” Schutz wrote.

The questions about the two broadcasts come weeks after Spofford claimed in court that evidence Chooljian used in her reporting simply does not exist. Chooljian reported on sexually harassing texts and a Snap Chat photo of a penis one of the victims received from Spofford. However, Spofford claims those texts and photos were never created by him, to begin with.

“Chooljian did not see the picture on which Elizabeth’s claim is based (because it never existed,)” Strauss wrote in a previous filing.

Strauss has also signaled to the court that one of the key sources used by Chooljian was Spofford’s aggrieved ex, Amy Anagnost, who was motivated by a desire to defame Spofford to get the upper hand in a custody battle over their son.

NHPR denies Anagnost was one of the sources used for the reporting.

Spofford is a Republican who has supported Gov. Chris Sununu in the past, and NHPR makes no secret of its left-of-center politics or its animosity toward GOP politicians. During the 2022 election cycle, it arranged a U.S. Senate debate with incumbent Democrat Maggie Hassan before Republicans had even held their primary, and they brought in a far-left journalist who formerly worked at “Bitch Media” to help moderate the debate.

ACLU Joins NHPR Lawsuit, Spofford Says Lewd Photo Used to Bolster Story Doesn’t Exist

New Hampshire Public Radio is gaining allies in the lawsuit brought by Granite Recovery’s Eric Spofford. The New Hampshire American Civil Liberties Union is leading a coalition of news outlets signing amicus briefs in favor of the public broadcaster.

But the show of support for the left-leaning media outlet comes as major evidence used to report the story is in doubt, according to court records filed in the case.

Spofford is suing the broadcaster claiming he was defamed by a series of stories alleging he sexually harassed women at the addiction recovery centers he founded. In one of the more damning portions of the story, one of the alleged victims said Spofford sent her lewd text messages and a photo of his penis.

But Spofford claimed in a recent court filing that NHPR reporter Lauren Chooljian never saw the alleged photo before she reported that it had been sent to the victim.

“Chooljian did not see the picture on which Elizabeth’s claim is based (because it never existed,)” the filing states.

The New Hampshire ACLU, along with the New England First Amendment Coalition, the Union Leader, the Keene Sentinel, Caledonian Record, and the Laconia Daily Sun filed a brief in the Rockingham Superior Court last month to intervene on behalf of NHPR. The outlets and civil rights groups joining the case have received little media attention, and even the typically PR-savvy ACLU has yet to announce its involvement through a press release on its website.

The timing of the ACLU’s amicus filing came as Spofford’s legal team called into doubt the foundation of NHPR’s reporting. Spofford’s attorney, Michael Strauss, wrote in a court motion that one key witness used by Chooljian was Spofford’s aggrieved ex, Amy Anagnost.

“Eric has uncovered that Amy both supplied her own false claims about him to (NHPR reporter Lauren) Chooljian and served as a source clearinghouse for Chooljian as she investigated and wrote the Article and Podcast. The NHPR defendants relied on Amy and the sources she cherry-picked for Chooljian, despite her obvious unreliability (after years of long-term recovery from alcoholism and addiction, she has relapsed, and that relapse occurred at or around when she started as a source for the NHPR defendants) and notwithstanding her known and unmistakable bias against and ill-will toward Eric as reflected in publicly available records,” Strauss wrote.

According to Strauss’ motion, Anagnost engaged in an effort to defame Spofford in order to gain the upper hand in family court hearings dealing with the shared custody of their son.

“A recent court filing by Amy’s soon-to-be ex-husband, Alex Anagnost, confirms that Amy ‘fed questionable information about her relationship with Eric to’ Chooljian for inclusion in the article and podcast, which Amy then used against Eric to alienate him from their son and as a weapon in their parenting dispute,” Strauss writes.

NHPR denied Anagnost was one of the sources for its reporting.

Spofford built a politically connected profile with Granite Recovery Centers. As the drug abuse recovery centers became the largest recovery facilities in New Hampshire, Spofford even counseled Gov. Chris Sununu on the response to New Hampshire’s opioid epidemic.

Spofford sold Granite Recovery Centers to BayMark Health Services, a Texas-based treatment company, last year. The sale price has not been disclosed.

Court Docs: Spofford’s Disgruntled Ex Gave NHPR Abuse Story

When New Hampshire Public Radio reported former Granite Recover CEO Eric Spofford, a political ally of Gov. Chris Sununu, engaged in a pattern of sexual abuse and harassment, it created political shockwaves.

But what the public news outlet didn’t report is that it allegedly relied heavily on a single source: Spofford’s ex, Amy Anagnost.

According to new documents filed in the Rockingham Superior Court, Anagnost was supplying NHPR with the material while she was engaged in an ugly custody battle with Spofford. Those records also show Anagnost threatened her current husband with the same treatment Spofford got.

NHPR, for its part, denies Amy Anagnost was a source for the story.

“NHPR’s reporting about Eric Spofford is based on sources identified in the story, none of whom are Amy Anagnost,” said Jayme Simoes, NHPR’s communications consultant.

Spofford, who has denied all wrongdoing, is currently suing NHPR for defamation. The taxpayer-subsidized news outlet is seeking to have the lawsuit dismissed. But Spofford’s attorney, Michael Strauss, wrote in his objection to the motion to dismiss that new evidence showing Anagnost was the main source for the story strengthens the complaint that NHPR acted recklessly when reporting the story.

“Eric has uncovered that Amy both supplied her own false claims about him to (NHPR reporter Lauren) Chooljian and served as a source clearinghouse for Chooljian as she investigated and wrote the article and podcast. The NHPR defendants relied on Amy and the sources she cherry-picked for Chooljian, despite her obvious unreliability (after years of long-term recovery from alcoholism and addiction, she has relapsed, and that relapse occurred at or around when she started as a source for the NHPR defendants) and notwithstanding her known and unmistakable bias against and ill-will toward Eric as reflected in publicly available records,” Strauss wrote.

Amy Anagnost is involved in a contested divorce with her current husband, Alex Anagnost, son of real estate developer Dick Anagnost. According to documents filed in that proceeding, Amy Anagnost falsely claimed she had nothing to do with the NHPR reporting on Spofford.

“A recent court filing by Amy’s soon-to-be ex-husband, Alex Anagnost, confirms that Amy ‘fed questionable information about her relationship with Eric to’ Chooljian for inclusion in the Article and Podcast, which Amy then used against Eric to alienate him from their son and as a weapon in their parenting dispute,” Strauss writes.

Evidence uncovered by Alex Anagnost includes numerous text messages between Chooljian and Amy Anagnost, according to Strauss.

“Amy’s own text messages reveal that she has helped steer Chooljian’s investigation ‘[s]ince [Chooljian] started the article.’  And because of their work together, Chooljian and Amy formed a close bond, which clouded Chooljian’s judgment and neutrality—an affront to the proper ethical boundaries between a reporter and her source,” Strauss wrote.

One text from Amy Anagnost describes Chooljian as a “G”, which Strauss writes is slang for “Gangster.”

“Implying that she and Chooljian’s relationship is rooted in a loyalty and common devotion to destroying Eric,” he wrote.

Contacted by NH Journal, Amy Anagnost continued to deny she acted as a source for NHPR.

“I was never a source for the article, but thank you,” she said.

When asked about the court documents that named her as a source, Amy Anagnost continued to deny her involvement.

“I don’t believe you have any documentation that says anything because I wasn’t a source,” she said.

Strauss declined to comment on the court filings and Amy Anagnost’s denials when contacted this week.

“This is a matter for the courts. We will see what people say when they have to produce documents and testify under oath,” Strauss said.

Amy Anagnost has been open about her addiction to alcohol and opioids in the past, but while she was Chooljian’s source she was publicly drinking and posting about her exploits on social media, according to court records. Once the NHPR story was published she reportedly used it in family court proceedings against Spofford, according to Strauss’s motion. She also tried to get her son to read the NHPR stories to alienate him from his father, according to court records in the Alex Anagnost case.

Amy Anagnost also allegedly threatened to spread stories about her husband during an angry confrontation with Dick Anagnost, according to court records.

“When Amy met with Dick to discuss her alcoholism, she told him that she would ‘get Alex like she got Eric,’ and that the Anagnost family ‘would all be sorry,’” one of the court Alex Anagnost documents states.

While NHPR had few sources on the record in the articles and podcasts about Spofford, Amy Anagnost was never mentioned in the reporting. According to the objection filed by NHPR’s attorney Sigmund Schutz, Spofford hasn’t proved that Amy Anagnost is the source behind the reporting. The text messages entered into the record, for example, are not authenticated, according to Schutz.

“The procedural problem is that the key document Spofford submits, an exchange of text messages is unauthenticated and unexplained. On its face, it does not even establish who the parties to the exchange are,” Schutz wrote. 

Even if the texts are genuine, Schutz writes, it does not disprove the stories about Spofford.

“Nothing in the texts suggests that NHPR acted with actual malice. They do not suggest that anything Anagnost may have said to Chooljian was false, that Anagnost encouraged anyone else to say anything to NHPR that was false, or that NHPR knew or suspected that anything it reported was false,” Schutz wrote.

NHPR is seeking to have the case dismissed on the grounds that as a public figure, Spofford cannot prove malice on the part of the public broadcaster.

“What Spofford’s complaint does not do is allege actual facts that could support a finding that Chooljian, or anyone else at NHPR, engaged in actionable defamation,” writes Schutz. “Because Spofford is a public figure, to plead a defamation claim he must allege not just that NHPR got the story wrong, but facts that, if proven, would demonstrate actual malice—meaning that the journalists in fact entertained serious doubts as to the truth of the story, or had a high degree of awareness of its probable falsity, but published it anyway.”

Spofford’s original complaint claims NHPR ignored on-the-record sources who contradicted the claims being made about sexual abuse. In one instance, one of the on-the-record sources, Piers Kaniuka, retracted his statements linking Spofford to the abuse. That retraction went unreported by NHPR, according to the lawsuit.

Spofford built a politically connected profile with Granite Recovery Centers. As the drug abuse recovery centers became the largest recovery facilities in New Hampshire, Spofford even counseled Sununu on the response to New Hampshire’s opioid epidemic.

Spofford sold Granite Recovery Centers to Bay Mark Health Services, a Texas-based treatment company last year. The sale price has not been disclosed.