Jan 18, 2009

Former LANL Worker Sues CBS

By Raam Wong, Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer

A Phoenix auto parts company has settled with a former Los Alamos National Laboratory worker who claimed she was duped into buying a souped-up Ford Mustang with a lab credit card.

Before the alleged scam became known, the purchase triggered congressional hearings and sensational media coverage depicting Lillian Anaya as a rogue lab worker spending taxpayer money on fast cars.

After she was exonerated, Anaya filed a defamation suit against LANL and media outlets, as well as All-Mustang Performance and its owner.

All-Mustang settled with Anaya in November, according to court documents. John Boyd, Anaya's attorney, said he couldn't discuss the confidential settlement, while an All-Mustang attorney could not be reached Friday.

Meanwhile, U.S. District Judge James Browning last month gave the go-ahead for Anaya's defamation lawsuit against CBS Broadcasting to proceed.

Public person?
Six years ago, Anaya was a veteran purchaser at LANL when anchorman Dan Rather and other CBS News reporters went on the air and told the Mustang story.

Anaya had only appeared in the media once before when she was listed as a survivor in her uncle's obituary. So it must have come as a shock to find herself the subject of five CBS Evening News broadcasts.

"Hey, nice car!" Rather said during the opening of one such broadcast as a picture of a shiny, black Mustang convertible flashed on the screen. "She bought it and charged it to you, the taxpayer."

As the media frenzy took hold, a frightened Anaya hid in her home with the blinds drawn and wept, according to her lawsuit.

"This was a woman who prided herself on her job and her integrity and had worked at LANL for more than 30 years and all of a sudden she's appearing in the national news as a criminal," Boyd, her attorney, said in an interview last week.

Last month, Judge Browning granted a partial victory to CBS, while at the same time clearing the way for the case to head to trial.

At issue was a central question in media law: At what point does a person enter the public arena and open herself to scrutiny?

The answer is important in defamation cases because public people — whether Brad Pitt or Bill Richardson — face a higher bar to prove they were slimed.

In seeking a summary judgement, CBS argued that Anaya's work made her a "public official." The network noted her top-secret clearance and million-dollar monthly credit limit.

But the court sided with Anaya's argument that CBS was overstating her job description. She had no employees beneath her and four layers of management above her — not the sort of position that invites public scrutiny, her attorneys said.

The court then addressed a second question: Did the controversy surrounding the Mustang story at least make Anaya a "public figure"? CBS argued it did. The law says individuals can become public figures after injecting themselves or being drawn into a public controversy. The court determined that Anaya was not a public figure during the first three broadcasts because she tried to avoid the attention.

"CBS attempted to contact her and interview her, but ... she chose to decline CBS' requests and to avoid contact with the media," the court found.

But, in June 2003, Anaya took a different tack. The lab had exonerated Anaya, and her then-attorney, Dan Cron, tried to use the media to set the record straight, according to the court.

Instead of simply answering reporters' questions, the court found that Cron was engaged in "exchanging blows with detractors and pushing the story that exonerated Lillian Anaya."

As a result, Anaya had become a public figure by the time of the final two CBS broadcasts, in October 2003 and April 2004, the court found.

That means Anaya will have to prove that, for those broadcasts at least, CBS acted with malice — defined as making statements that the network knew, or should have known, were false.

Acting in malice
The court found sufficient evidence that CBS and its reporter may have done just that during the final two broadcasts.

By the October 2003 program, reporter Sharyl Attkisson had a "mountain of evidence that there was no car," according to the court.

The court pointed to the lab's explanation for the Mustang:

In May 2002, Anaya phoned what she believed to be an established lab vendor to order 21 pressure transducers. LANL's business records were outdated, and Anaya unintentionally reached All-Mustang, which had acquired the vendor's old phone number.

Thinking she was dealing with Fluid Conditioning, Anaya faxed All-Mustang her order. The company then charged her card nearly $30,000.

But despite the exoneration by LANL, CBS ran subsequent reports that implicated Anaya.

The October broadcast included an interview with All-Mustang owner Tom Thompson who claimed: "She wanted a late-model Mustang, black convertible, with, like, black leather interior. She wanted it loaded up with all the options, and then she wanted to make it go fast."

The broadcast included LANL's explanation for the mix-up. But the court found CBS' description of the LANL story made it sound "ridiculous."

"The Court believes that, after the wrong-number theory came out, and after LANL officially exonerated Lillian Anaya, Attkisson should have become more cognizant of the possibility that Lillian Anaya was innocent," Judge Browning wrote.

The court also found evidence of malice in Rather's April 2004 statement: "She's at it again. A government worker using your tax dollars for more questionable purchases."

The anchorman was referring to an Inspector General report that reviewed past questionable transactions by Anaya and, for the most part, confirmed her innocence.

Yet CBS made it sound as if Anaya was continuing her extravagant spending in the wake of her exoneration, the court found.

Attkisson is a defendant in the case, while Rather is not. An attorney for CBS in Santa Fe could not be reached Friday.

Another defendant in the case, the University of California, the lab's former manager, agreed to pay Anaya $475,000 in 2006 on behalf of the school and three former lab employees named in the suit.


Anonymous said...

Godspeed, Lillian!

Anonymous said...

I hope that she cleans them out!

Anonymous said...

CBS really has it for LANL. In any case we will be hearing Dan Rather speak about LANL again.

Anonymous said...

Does anybody know of the names of the "three former lab employees named in the suit?"

Anonymous said...

Dan Rather is a scumbag.
There is no such thing as journalistic ethics at CBS.
Whatever Lillian gets out of this lawsuit is not enough!

Anonymous said...

Lillian was not the only one harmed by the CBS story. Everyone working at LANL, as an employee, a student, or a contractor, was smeared by the same brush. This should be enlarged to a class action suit against CBS with 10,000+ claimants. CBS, and other network news organizations, should be taught to be responsible reporters, not yellow journalists.

Anonymous said...

Yes, let's have a class-action suit! CBS has deep pockets, let's empty them a bit.

Anonymous said...

1/18/09 11:28 AM

Lets add the 8000 employees at LLNL who lost their pension because of this Mustang BS. Maybe we can all clean their socks for about $100B and get what we lost when we lost our UCRP.

Anonymous said...

If Lillian wins, will CBS News broadcast the story of their loss on the Nightly News? I doubt it.

The main LANL attacker at CBS News in not Dan Rather. It is a sensationalist reporter, Sharyl Attkisson. She has a long history of poorly research stories at CBS News directed at harming LANL's reputation.

Anonymous said...

It's pretty clear who the favorite child is in NNSA's complex: Pantex.

The current "black sheep" in the NNSA family seems to be LLNL, which recently received poor scores and big profit penalties. This is probably a precursor to future NNSA actions. I don't think LLNL will be left within the NNSA complex much longer. I also don't think Congresswoman Tauscher and Sen. Feinstein will mind very much if LLNL is downsized and moved over to DOE.


Report rates Pantex 'outstanding'
Contractor earns $33.9M in fees, posts company's highest score

By Jim McBride

Contractor B&W Pantex received an "outstanding" performance rating and earned $33.9 million in fees for managing and operating the Pantex Plant last fiscal year, a National Nuclear Security Administration evaluation report said.

The NNSA said B&W's overall performance exceeded the Pantex Site Office's expectations and earned a contractor rating of 94 percent, the company's highest Pantex score to date, according to an annual contract performance evaluation.

Anonymous said...

"pretty clear who the favorite child is in NNSA's complex: Pantex."

Well, actually it's more like a love in. But, it has been for some time.

Anonymous said...

Gotta love The Onion. Does any of this below sound familiar?



Incompetent Staff Feels Underappreciated

January 17, 2009

KNOXVILLE, TN—Taking a break from surfing the web, going out for multiple cups of coffee, and missing important work deadlines, employees at Winthrop Media complained once again Monday about being taken for granted.

"I come in almost every day, bust my hump for like four or five hours, and what do I get? Nothing," said Tom Bertram, one of several chronic underachievers employed by the Knoxville advertising firm. "You'd think management could show us a little appreciation now and again. It's not like I particularly enjoy just sitting around here all day."

Bertram then returned to his computer's web browser, logged out of Facebook, and hurriedly responded to 14 work e-mails that had accumulated in his in-box.

According to sources, the 36-year-old isn't the only incompetent employee on staff who feels undervalued. Joseph Garten, a production designer, notorious procrastinator, and all-around liability, said that he wished he got more respect around the office.

"A simple thank-you from the higher-ups would be nice," said Garten, who spends nearly 60 percent of his workweek making personal calls from his desk. "Yesterday I stayed late in order to finish up some work I've been putting off, and nobody even noticed."

Added Garten, "I don't know how much longer I can keep killing myself like this."

In addition to receiving praise for their hard work, the inept and often neglectful staff members said they'd like to see a number of new incentives introduced. Among them, a larger and more comfortable break room where employees can go unwind, longer extensions on overdue projects, and the option of working from home on Fridays and possibly also Mondays.

"This place would fall apart without me," said routinely absent project coordinator Susan McIntyre. "I'm the only one around here who actually knows how to use the popcorn maker, and I almost always remember to wash my mug in the sink after I'm done using it. Plus, I show up to meetings only like a minute or two late."

"Honestly now," McIntyre continued. "They're lucky I just don't pack up my things and leave."

Despite feelings of frustration, employees at the design firm have yet to bring their misplaced concerns and unfounded complaints directly to management. Instead, many choose to air their grievances by making passive- aggressive comments beneath their breath, setting aside important assignments in favor of reading gossip columns, and sneaking out several times each week to grab a "much- deserved drink."

"Our Christmas party this year was the last straw for me," said Deborah Castor, whose early departures to attend a scrapbooking class have resulted in the advertising firm losing two separate clients. "Some crappy Secret Santa thing, a bowl of punch, and a box of Archway cookies and they call it a holiday bash? We're the heart and soul of this company, for Christ's sake."

While no one has come forward as of yet, management at Winthrop Media is reportedly aware of its employees' reticence to work and prepared to take action.

"We've already tried buying everyone lunch and handing out big bonuses, but so far nothing's worked," company president Harvey Dunn said. "I wish I could just fire the entire staff for being so incompetent, but between going on vacation and running around trying to buy a second home, I'm really only in the office a couple of days a year."

Anonymous said...

CBS is Bechtel. Bechtel is CBS. Dan Rather is a scum sucker.

Anonymous said...

Back on subject...Rather can be credited more with a loose mouth than the focus of the venom, here. The real villan is Sharyl Atkisson, who with her producer and her good friend Danielle Bryan (POGO), spent a couple years trying to nail LANL on anything they could dream up.
Bryan, self admitted liberal public do-gooder who admitted she knew NOTHING about nuclear anything [in front of a Congressional Committee] has been buddies with Atkisson for years.

I hope that Lillian nails these eastern media types for everything and makes them hurt bad. It's nice to see someone else use the system in the right way.

Anonymous said...

"..and the option of working from home on Fridays and possibly also Mondays." (The Onion)

Ouch! That one was too close for comfort.

Anonymous said...

"1/18/09 10:28 PM"

Exactly, these are the people that post "I hate anyone who is a good scientist at LANL". "People with Phd's are arrogant racists". "So and so does not deserve that award!" " I hate the people who work hard and accomplish things".

These haters are just losers who resent the hard work of others.

Anonymous said...

From 1/19/09 10:56 AM

"..and the option of working from home on Fridays and possibly also Mondays." (The Onion)

Ouch! That one was too close for comfort.

In T division this is quite a common practice - what is your problem??

Anonymous said...

11:12 am: Don't you just hate those losers?

Anonymous said...

In T division this is quite a common practice - what is your problem??

1/19/09 12:15 PM

Uh.... I rest my case.

Anonymous said...

"In T division this is quite a common practice - what is your problem??

1/19/09 12:15 PM"

No it is not.