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Jerry Robert's attorney Dennis Merenbach holds up the News-Press "front page smear."

Paul Wellman

Jerry Robert's attorney Dennis Merenbach holds up the News-Press "front page smear."


Shameless News-Press Breaks Out the Kiddie Porn

Paper Suggests Jerry Roberts Downloaded Child Porn; Former Editor Responds


Sunday, April 22, 2007
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On Sunday, April 22, the Santa Barbara News-Press featured a front page, below-the-fold story whose headline read: "News-Press seeks exam of computer used by ex-editor Roberts containing child porn." The non-bylined story, attributed to "News-Press Staff Report," explained that the newspaper's owner Ampersand Publishing, which is solely controlled by Wendy P. McCaw, "has filed papers in Superior Court to allow it to conduct forensic tests on the hard drive of the computer used by ex-editor Jerry Roberts, which contains according to the police more than 15,000 images of child and adult pornography." Although the article's unknown author admits that the Santa Barbara District Attorney's office was unable to prosecute anyone due to the nebulous nature of how these images were acquired, it goes on to state that "Ampersand, in the meantime, is conducting its own internal investigation to determine the source of the material."

At an impromptu press conference to respond to the article, Jerry Roberts, his wife Linda Keifer, and his attorney Dennis Merenbach vehemently denied any connection to the child pornography on this hard drive. Said Roberts, who independently passed a lie detector test denying the claims, "I have absolutely, categorically nothing to do with any of this material." He labeled the story "a front page smear" and said that in this battle over ethics, the News-Press on Sunday showed their lack of standards in a "full display for all the world to see." The "unconscionable" charges are "completely untrue" said a clearly infuriated Roberts, who added, "I am outraged beyond measure at this desperate attempt to ruin my reputation." He called the damages to his career "incalculable."

By Paul Wellman

An angry Jerry Roberts.

The press event was attended by about 30 journalists, including the nearly 20 who crammed into Merenbach's second-floor office on East Carrillo Street, a plethora of former N-P reporters, and one current reporter from the News-Press. With numerous flashes firing and cameras rolling, Merenbach revealed that the suspect G4 Macintosh computer was purchased by the paper as a used computer and that the same hard drive was used by other editors before Roberts's tenure. Law enforcement and computer experts are unable to determine who downloaded the pornography because there are no time stamps on the images, and therefore the person responsible, whether a former News-Press employee or not, will likely never be known.

By Paul Wellman

A teary Linda Keifer, wife of Jerry Roberts.

But the ethically questionable motivations aside, perhaps most egregious in the eyes of Roberts-who's been in the business for 30-plus years, formerly edited the San Francisco Chronicle, and is now in charge of UCSB's Daily Nexus and yearbook-the News-Press did not contact him for a comment nor tell him that the article would be published on Sunday. "There was no attempt to contact me for comment in advance of publication," said Roberts, to which the crowd of assembled journalist uttered a collective sigh. That is, arguably, the biggest no-no in professional journalism and it remains unclear as to how the newspaper will justify that decision. Roberts was informed of the article in an email from a friend, and he promptly alerted his wife, three daughters, and attorney and arranged for the 3 p.m. conference to clear his name.

Should the News-Press have contacted Jerry Roberts before running this story?

See the results without voting.

With tears in her eyes and a waver in her voice, his wife Linda Keifer said, "Our family is very proud of him." She called the accusation "outrageous" and explained that it "speaks more to the people making the accusation" than to her husband. "He will not back down from the truth," Keifer said.

Roberts and Merenbach-who opined, "this is a really black day for Santa Barbara"-are currently investigating their legal options for a libel suit, and determining whether the binding arbitration they're pursuing with the News-Press precludes their possible actions. (That arbitration, incidentally, is bound to confidentiality; Roberts noted that he's upheld his end of that bargain, but declared this story shows that the News-Press is not holding up their end.) The existence of court documents often safeguards a newspaper against libel, though it's rare if not unprecedented that a newspaper would file legal documents as a premeditated move to block litigation. (No one has yet made such a claim.) Roberts explained, "I have been in the business awhile and as far as I recall, the preconditions for libel are similar to this."

Media watchers are summarily shocked at the news story. Said The Independent's editor-in-chief Marianne Partridge, a veteran journalist who's edited The Village Voice and Rolling Stone among other publications, "This is an unspeakable outrage. There's no news story here. This is disgusting. The News-Press has sunk into a mire as yet unknown to man in Santa Barbara. This rivals the worst of the yellow journalism of the 1920s and '30s."

By Paul Wellman

Roberts holding hands with his wife.

Merenbach also called to mind the ridiculously rich media kingpin William Randolph Hearst, who, like News-Press owner Wendy McCaw, had the wealth to "hire legions of lawyers" and "stomp on [those who disagreed with him] like trying to extract juice from a grape." Said Merenbach, "McCaw has been able to do so "without having dented the bulk of her wealth."

Interestingly, the News-Press's attempt to retrieve the hard drive is essentially a motion to have illegal contraband returned to the newspaper. That move, which is being opposed by the City of Santa Barbara, will almost certainly fail in court, as it's exactly like the newspaper asking for an ounce of methamphetamine to be returned so that they can try to ascertain whose drugs they are. As such, when asked whether the motion was merely a "ruse" to be able to write this story and publicly humiliate Roberts, Merenbach responded, "That's the only conclusion I can come to:I think even my three-year-old grandson could understand that."

Furthermore, the amount of dedicated work needed to download 15,000 images of child pornography is unfathomable. "You'd have to be working at it for three years to accumulate this much info," said Merenbach, who confirmed that law enforcement's attempts to determine the responsible party was thorough because these images are an "extremely serious" matter. Essentially, the cops did all they could, and were unsuccessful.

By Paul Wellman

Roberts in Merenbach's office, with his wife Linda Keifer.

The article also contains inaccuracies, according to Merenbach: Roberts never refused to cooperate with police, and the police accepted Robert's denial via Merenbach, because Roberts was in the midst of dealing with his cancer. Also, Merenbach said that no other law enforcement agency is currently investigating the case, though the article erroneously claims that the FBI is still involved.

A quick review of the numerous documents provided by Merenbach indicate that computer systems director Raul Gil was reporting to private detective/newspaper security expert Nick Montano, who shepherded the hard drive to a data recovery company in Novato, California. That company located the pornography, and alerted law enforcement.

Meanwhile, Gil secretly told Roberts that he believed that the newspaper was going to "use heinous information of dubious source to ruin [his] reputation." In his January 29, 2007 declaration, Gil calls Roberts "an honorable and decent man who left the paper because of his concerns over journalistic ethics of management. The actions of News-Press representatives in this regard offend my conscience and compel me to write this declaration, even at the risk of facing retaliation. It is the right thing to do. I am greatly concerned that I, like others, will be sued for daring to speak the truth. I also believe that silence at this point would be an unethical act and allow my employers to ruin a good man." When Gil was confronted by the News-Press for leaking the info to Roberts, Gil resigned.

On Monday, Roberts' attorney will be sending a demand for a retraction to the newspaper. There is a hearing on the matter set for May 2 in Santa Barbara Superior Court.

A series of questions were sent to News-Press spokesperson Agnes Huff before and after the press conference. She responded to say that attorney Barry Cappello would try to respond sometime today. As of 5:30 p.m., he had not.

By Paul Wellman

Jerry Roberts denies suggestions that he downloaded child porn with attorney Dennis Merenbach behind him.

For Nick Welsh's news story on this event, go here.

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Comments

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This attempt at an article was written by Steepleton (or Armstrong), obviously, as he has no other by-lines in the NewsPress edition today. The only legitimate reason to give the "staff writer" by-line is to dilute an abundance of too many other by-lines on a page with the same author name.

The other reason for a "staff writer" by-line is to hide some [editor censored] and immunize the author from a counter-claim, the same way it was hidden last January in the NewsPress own news articles on the federal court hearing about the complaints to NLRB. We all know what the Judge determined then about the credibility of the NewsPress staff testimony, now by the same people who pretend to be credible news writers and editorialists today.

Of course, what is more-than-conspicuously left out of this article is how Ampersand is currently suing Roberts for $25 million. Any conflict of interest there for the NewsPress??

This allegation against Roberts is just a colossally pathetic and stupid attempt somehow to gain more leverage against Roberts. However, what will result is that desperate stupidity of the allegation only will give more leverage for Roberts against Ampersand, big time.

According to news accounts published today at the Indy and elsewhere, the computer drive on which the files were found was obtained used prior to when Roberts had access to that computer. Also, during his tenure at NewsPress anyone else there could have accessed that computer.

Ampersand and the hirelings obviously are not consulting their own attorneys and strategic advisors. Roberts now has become a hugely sympathetic figure more than he already was, and now he has gigantic facts and leverage to fight back from a vastly stronger position.

David_Pritchett (David Pritchett)
April 22, 2007 at 6:45 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Mr. Pritchett, as despicable and transparently unethical as the News-Press' article was, I have a feeling that lawyers -- not ethical ones, however -- did take a look at this article. It doesn't directly accuse Roberts of being a child pornographer, and thus someone must think that's enough to slide by. No one with an ethical bone in their body could have let this go, especially without contacting Roberts. But since all they've got to do the editing and vetting are Steepletonofcrap, Travisty, A Cappello and Millstone, it's no wonder that something this slimy could make the front page.

JoeHill (anonymous profile)
April 22, 2007 at 8:23 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Pertinent quotes from the New York Times article dated April 23 by Sharon Waxman in the Business section, "Rancor Rises Over Santa Barbara Newspaper":
...
"In a letter dated March 2, the district attorney's chief trial deputy, Eric A. Hanson, wrote that there was no basis for filing charges over the pornography, since the computer was used by several people at The News-Press. "At the present time there is insufficient evidence to warrant bringing charges against any individual," the letter stated.

"And a former systems director for the newspaper, Raul Gil, gave a signed statement in January that the computer drive used by Mr. Roberts might have been used by former employees years ago. Mr. Gil has resigned from The News-Press over the matter.

"Mr. Roberts said the computer had been bought in used condition, and was used by three other editors before his arrival at the paper."
...

--virtually sick of being astonished by f'in McCaw

biff_arden (anonymous profile)
April 22, 2007 at 8:51 p.m. (Suggest removal)

If ever there was a person who should not own or in any way be involved with a newspaper or any other public media, except perhaps as the subject of a gossip column, McCaw is it.

This is very possibly the most disgusting smear attempt I have ever had the misfortune to see. It is so obvious that I expect it to have the effect of turning even more people against McCaw and her crew.

RCMeltzer (anonymous profile)
April 23, 2007 at 11:44 a.m. (Suggest removal)

As Jerry Roberts' colleague of many years (two of them
as his managing editor at the News-Press), I've
watched from afar as our former employer has marshaled
her considerable fortune to personally attack an
honorable man and talented journalist . I didn't think
I could be surprised any more by her tactics.

Until this week.

To Ms. McCaw, I'd ask the same question that Sen.
Joseph McCarthy was asked, after he had gone too far,
too many times, in his attempts to ruin the lives and
reputations of innocent people:

"Have you no sense of decency?"

And I'd like to remind the people of Santa Barbara
that false charges like those leveled by Ms. McCaw -- no
matter how fanciful -- require a legal response. Legal
responses cost money. That's why I've worked with
Jerry's friends and colleagues in Northern California
to raise money for the Lawyers Alliance for Free
Speech Rights.

Please contribute to this legal defense
fund so that Jerry and other threatened by Ms. McCaw's
bullying are able to fight back.

Send your checks to the Lawyers Alliance for Free Speech Rights, PO Box 22557, Santa Barbara, 93121.
--Linda Strean

lstrean (anonymous profile)
April 23, 2007 at 10:28 p.m. (Suggest removal)

In the 50's you destroyed someone by calling them a Communist.
In the 60's, you planted drugs on them.
In the 80's you accused them of child molestation.
Now, you accuse them of downloading child porn.
Let's stop this cycle.

Wendy has now entered the ring and the bell has rung to begin the fight. There's no turning back now and the psychological war has come to an end.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
April 24, 2007 at 2:29 a.m. (Suggest removal)

All I can say about this matter is that based on my firsthand experience when I started as Assistant City Editor at the News-Press on Oct. 30, 2006, there was absolutely no security on my computer after tech support set it up for me. And I had no idea who may have accessed what sites before I even started using the computer.

Even though I was allowed to input a password which was supposed to restrict access to only myself, I knew not to assume anything, so I tested it.

I was able to simply click on my e-mail icon on the desktop monitor without using my password and open up my e-mails, reading everything I had sent and received the previous day. I was also able to send e-mails to others as if they were coming from me, and access the Internet with impunity.

This greatly concerned me so I called tech support and urgently requested that they fix this breach of security immediately.

I knew that anyone could simply turn on my computer and read my e-mails and send out e-mails posing as me. I figured a worst-case scenario would be for someone to e-mail a death threat to the president of the U.S. and I'd have the Secret Service knocking down my door the next day.

The News-Press is in a peculiar situation claiming that any employee committed any wrongdoing on any computer unless it can prove who was using the computer at an exact time and date, and that the users had access security.

Now the News-Press may also have to prove it had an absence of malice in reporting these allegations against Jerry Roberts, or else a jury may find it guilty of libel and slander and possibly award Roberts a huge financial verdict.

My 30-year journalism career has included serious investigative reporting, but I always made sure I had my facts confirmed by several sources before going to print.

Based on my experiences, I would have opposed running this story considering the shaky information supporting its allegations. Since there is no byline on the story, it shows me that the News-Press itself lacked the confidence to reveal who even wrote it. It makes me wonder if non-journalist attorneys or PR folks spun it.

It appears that the current News-Press managers-, reporters- and editors-in-training have to learn the principles of journalism ethics the hard way, via a steady stream of courtroom trials, judges' findings and possibly even juries' verdicts, while depriving the community of professional local news coverage.

bobGuiliano (anonymous profile)
April 24, 2007 at 3:30 p.m. (Suggest removal)

"To Ms. McCaw, I'd ask the same question that Sen.
Joseph McCarthy was asked, after he had gone too far,
too many times, in his attempts to ruin the lives and
reputations of innocent people:

"Have you no sense of decency?"

And I'd like to remind the people of Santa Barbara
that false charges like those leveled by Ms. McCaw -- no
matter how fanciful -- require a legal response. Legal
responses cost money. That's why I've worked with
Jerry's friends and colleagues in Northern California
to raise money for the Lawyers Alliance for Free
Speech Rights.

Please contribute to this legal defense
fund so that Jerry and other threatened by Ms. McCaw's
bullying are able to fight back.

Send your checks to the Lawyers Alliance for Free Speech Rights, PO Box 22557, Santa Barbara, 93121.
--Linda Strean"

oliverwood (anonymous profile)
July 9, 2014 at 4:37 a.m. (Suggest removal)

This article is seven years old. Why is it being re-published?

billclausen (anonymous profile)
July 9, 2014 at 5:49 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Not "republished," but brought to the forefront because this site lists and highlights, by putting on the comment list, recent posts.

Ask Oliver Wood. Maybe someone who knows what's up with Mr. Robert's case will enlighten us. I too wondered, as I greet and honor Mr. Roberts from a distance, just another supporter.

geraldbostock (anonymous profile)
July 9, 2014 at 6:44 a.m. (Suggest removal)

"Raul Gil secretly told Roberts that he believed that the newspaper was going to “use heinous information of dubious source to ruin [his] reputation.” In his January 29, 2007 declaration, Gil calls Roberts “an honorable and decent man who left the paper because of his concerns over journalistic ethics of management.

oliverwood (anonymous profile)
July 9, 2014 at 11:46 a.m. (Suggest removal)

"This article is seven years old. Why is it being re-published?"

Reminder

oliverwood (anonymous profile)
July 12, 2014 at 6:49 a.m. (Suggest removal)

yes, a salutary reminder, and another sort of confirmation is that the News-SUPPress is failing, flailing, and falling apart: their recent "redo" makes them thinner than ever, more irrelevant than ever, & hopefully Steepleton will be looking for work soon, very soon...

DrDan (anonymous profile)
July 12, 2014 at 6:59 a.m. (Suggest removal)

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