Santa Barbara Publisher Fires Back At Lou Cannon in Op-Ed

By: Joe Strupp Two weeks after author Lou Cannon criticized the Santa Barbara News-Press and owner Wendy McCaw in a Los Angeles Times column for her nearly year-long battle with newsroom staffers, McCaw fired back in a Sunday column that contends Cannon "exemplifies how so-called 'journalists' have tumbled into incredulity, self-destroying the image they so carefully created."

McCaw also claims that she asked the Times to run the piece, but the paper refused. Times officials could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday

"On May 13, 2007, the Los Angeles Times published an op-ed piece by Lou Cannon that was highly critical of me and the Santa Barbara News-Press," McCaw wrote atop her column. "The Los Angeles Times has refused to publish the following response when we asked."

Cannon, a famed Reagan biographer and Santa Barbara resident, has been among the most outspoken critics of McCaw and her paper since the ongoing dispute between management and newsroom staffers began last summer. The battles started when five former editors, including top editor Jerry Roberts, resigned in July 2006, claiming McCaw had meddled in newsroom decisions. Since then, at least 39 staffers have either quit or been fired from the paper; newsroom employees voted to be represented by a division of the Teamsters; and various National Labor Relations Board complains have been filed.

In his column, Cannon recounted the past 11 months of turmoil, which included the firings and resignations, lawsuits between Roberts and the paper, a story suggesting Roberts had ties to a News-Press computer found to contain child pornography, and NLRB findings that the paper improperly fired eight reporters for involvement in union activities.

He also noted the paper's legendary past as a publication that stood up to groups such as the John Birch Society. "That trust is now gone," he claimed. "And with it one of the most vital aspects of life in Santa Barbara. It's a sad story."

McCaw's column, available only to online subscribers and in print but obtained by E&P, opened by declaring, "Since last summer, Lou Cannon has attacked the Santa Barbara News-Press, and personally attacked this writer, its owner and publisher. "

McCaw went on to explain her side of the recent upheavals, declaring "At the Santa Barbara News-Press, I, as owner, decided we no longer could tolerate journalists and editors that wrote what they wanted, when they wanted, with only passing care to the truth and with even fewer attempts at neutrality."

She went on to claim that the paper found, in a 2005 poll of readers, that 64% believed articles were biased, while also recounting the pornography incident, with another attempt to link it to Roberts, but a later mention that no proof has been found linking the criminal images to any specific person.

"In order to keep our paper running smoothly, we reviewed the two computers Mr. Roberts was using to determine where we could locate the stringers and freelancers, information that apparently was kept only on his computers," she wrote, in part. "Mr. Roberts' computers had been wiped clean. We then sent these computers to experts and learned that these computers, owned by our company, had been used to download thousands of images of children being sexually abused and of adult pornography. It appears that someone at our company, probably on company time, was exploiting the traffic in child pornography."

She later noted "the Lou Cannons of this world missed the point in our story that our newsroom computers contained this vile material, and how we at the News-Press are fighting to determine who did it."

Her column also stated, "Mr. Cannon exemplifies what is wrong with today's journalistic elite. He purports to be a journalist, yet has never met me, much less made any attempt to talk to me or the co-publisher, Arthur von Wiesenberger, about the matters which he claims to care about." McCaw adds, "Facts seem to be unimportant to him. The misery of these exploited children is meaningless to him. Mr. Cannon, you ignore the fact that perhaps one or more of your fellows may have engaged in this conduct. It now is apparent to all where your true sympathies lie.

"Mr. Cannon's op-ed piece is proof that bias and misplaced allegiance is no substitute for the truth," she wrote. "If Mr. Cannon practiced the profession he claims to be a part of, perhaps he would fact-check, verify and obtain other sources before he engages us again."


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