Paul Wellman (file)
Arthur von Wiesenberger, Wendy McCaw, and Barry Cappello in 2007
Wendy McCaw Takes the Stand
News-Press Owner Tells Her Side of the Story as NLRB Hearing Nears End
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
In the long, sad war over the fate of the Santa Barbara News-Press - a paper that, since July 2006, has gone from award-winning to the subject of federal labor law prosecution - Tuesday, September 25, will go down as a landmark battle. It was the day that the paper’s owner and co-publisher Wendy P. McCaw, who’s now reviled by many in Santa Barbara and beyond for allegedly disregarding journalistic ethics, came out from behind the veil of her newspaper and took the stand to tell her side of the story.
An hour before she took the stand, the day’s energy around the U.S. Bankruptcy Court on State Street was palpable. There were multiple cameras outside and more observers in the courtroom than ever before in the course of the National Labor Relations Board‘s case against the paper. Even the testimony of the morning’s first witness, the paper’s HR director Yolanda Apodaca, seemed like it was secondary on everyone’s mind. And then, when one attorney spent a few minutes organizing the green exhibit binders on the witness stand as News-Press attorney Barry Cappello gave a quick smile to the crowd, it became clear that someone special was coming through the door.
He then called McCaw, who walked in wearing a loose-fitting, grayish skirt-like top and matching pants, sparkling earrings, and a white bracelet. Her whitish-blonde hair was clipped into a bun that, from the right angle and with a little imagination, formed head-top swirls that resembled an ampersand, which is the name of her publishing company that owns the News-Press. She didn’t seem entirely uncomfortable on the stand, yet McCaw clearly wasn’t overjoyed to be there, only offering hints of smiles a couple of times throughout the day. And while she wasn’t really a warm, engaging, or brilliant witness during her couple hours on the stand, she didn’t turn out to be the wicked witch of Hope Ranch either. She appeared sincere in her beliefs - and quite passionate when it came to anything about animals - though McCaw seemed a bit out of touch with standard journalistic practices.
McCaw Before the Court of Law
McCaw’s testimony began with the customary rundown of education and experience: born in Palo Alto and raised in Menlo Park; graduated from Stanford with degrees in art and history in 1973; married Craig McCaw, who founded successful cell phone company that was sold in 1994; divorced soon after; moved to Santa Barbara in 1994. After launching her eponymous nonprofit foundation dedicated to architectural preservation and environmental causes, McCaw purchased the News-Press in October 2000 (and later, in 2004, the Valley Voice, Blue Edge, and El Mexicano) because she saw an “opportunity to bring back the paper to local ownership.”
By Paul Wellman
Tracy Lehr (left) of KEYT tries to get a comment from News-Press owner Wendy McCaw as she walks down the street with co-publisher Arthur von Wiesenberger and attorney Barry Cappello.
Before becoming co-publisher in 2006, McCaw oversaw the editorial page, and took an “active” role by reading the paper daily and commenting to the publisher and editors on problems with bias, typos, and spelling errors. Upon becoming co-publisher with her fiancee Arthur von Wiesenberger in April 2006, McCaw became active in all aspects of the paper, even news-gathering.
When asked is she had a right to control the content of the news section, she replied, “I believe I have a right to that that, but I don’t choose to exercise that.” Bias was a lingering problem for McCaw throughout her ownership because, as she explained, “We didn’t want the paper dictating what people should be believing.”
The bulk of her testimony with her attorney Barry Cappello - which, overall, was littered with objections that blocked various angles of inquiry - involved deciphering various handwritten notes that McCaw had scrawled on old articles. She would then fax or discuss these comments with the publisher and editors, namely Joe Cole and Jerry Roberts.
An article about removing coyotes from Hope Ranch featured a number of these notes: one suggested that the article was biased, along with articles about the eagles on the Channel Islands and bridges being torn down in North County; another complained about the need for a restaurant grid and a redesigned Scene magazine; another asked why an article about a Hannah-Beth Jackson (she had written “HBJ”, though couldn’t recall on the stand why) press release did not cite the role of the Sperlings or the Wendy P. McCaw Foundation in saving the Ellwood Mesa; and a fourth said that “bad editing” was at fault for the front-page placement of a story about architect Brian Cearnal‘s lawsuit against McCaw.
By Paul Wellman
Wendy McCaw (left) and her co-publisher/fiancee Arthur von Wiesenberger (right) exit the courthouse behind attorney Barry Cappello.
Cappello asked McCaw what was biased about the coyote article, and she responded, “It was anti-coyote!…It was very negative about these poor animals who were being annihilated.” As to the other articles about the Channel Islands restoration projects - which McCaw termed alternately “killing sprees” and “killing fields” - and the long-standing otter relocation program, McCaw called both wildlife management programs arbitrary. “The other side of the story,” she explained with passion, “is the unintended consequences when you start messing with Mother Nature.” She said those consequences worked as a “trickle-down effect.”
When asked straight ahead whether Burns or Davison were fired because of their union actions, McCaw said they were not.