Bully Pulpit

New-Press Throws Weight Around, Woody's Jazz Smokes, Filling Empty Bowls

Tuesday, December 19, 2006
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McCaw Signs: In the wake of Wendy McCaw’s Christmastime lawsuits and legal threats, a wry joke is going around town: Who would Jesus sue?

By Paul Wellman (file)

Wendy McCaw

Not many targets remain, as McCaw attorney Barry Cappello has fired off threatening letters to a handful of small businesses that dared to post copies of the “McCaw Obey the Law” signs. Charged Cappello: “The sign implies that Ms. McCaw is violating the law, which is not true and defamatory.”

Countered Ira Gottlieb, attorney for the Teamsters union representing News-Press newsroom employees: “It is unfathomable that a court of law would find the posting of this slogan in shop windows (or in people’s vehicles or anywhere else) to be the basis for a valid libel suit.”

Call it bullying, but most of the places I visited Monday had fearfully removed the offending signs. mccaw%20obey%20law.jpg However, at Highlights Hair Salon, 160 W. Alamar Street, owner Eric Zahm confessed on KSBY-TV that the letter “scared me a little bit. It intimidated me. And I don’t think it was necessary.” So he taped a copy of Cappello’s letter to the front window. And, if you craned your neck from the sidewalk and looked hard enough, you could see the poster stuck to the salon’s ceiling. Java Station, a coffee spot at Hollister Avenue and Modoc Road, still had the sign up. At the Italian and Greek Deli, at State and Ortega streets, the family owners took down the sign but are seeking advice about whether to put it back up. Cappello recently sent letters to members of the Santa Barbara Lawyers Alliance for Free Speech, attorneys supporting the journalists, strongly suggesting that they reconsider their support.

Meanwhile, McCaw has sued the author of a recent American Journalism Review story about the News-Press’ problems, claiming defamation and libel. On another front, the News-Press is apparently upset that a McCaw memo, warning that employees face discipline for “public disparagement/disloyalty” toward the paper and management, showed up in blogger Craig Smith’s column. According to Gottlieb, last Friday Associate Editor Scott Steepleton went around the newsroom asking journalists to sign an affidavit attesting that they hadn’t leaked the memo. One journalist said that when she asked what would happen if she didn’t sign, she was told that there would be “consequences.” Gottlieb told me he got that stopped. He also asked News-Press reps that Steepleton apologize, admit the error, promise not to do it again, and that all copies be shredded. So far, Gottlieb said Monday afternoon, he’s not heard back about that.

So far, the January 9 National Labor Relations Board hearing on the newsroom unionization is still on and still set in Santa Barbara, at a location still undetermined as of Monday afternoon. The issue is the News-Press challenge about whether the employee vote in favor of the Teamsters was fair and free of misconduct.

Woody Knows Jazz: The Woodman and his New Orleans Jazz Band filled the Lobero Sunday night with music lovers, with Allen tooting a strangely funky clarinet sound. But the band sounded great, especially trumpeter Simon Wettenhall, whose playing reminded some of both Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke. Woody modestly took his turn with the other soloists, looked serious, and kept his eyes mostly fixed away from the audience except when making a few comments. “We love to play,” he said, proving it by making music for more than 90 minutes straight, plus a lovely encore of modern standards. “We play in our living rooms,” he said. “It’s a bonus to have an audience.”

Empty Bowls: The recent Empty Bowls fundraiser raised an astounding $85,000 for the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, I’m told. A big thanks to the potters who created the bowls diners took home after the soup-slurping — and the local restaurants that donated the great soup.

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