Angry Poodle:The Poodle Barks Again

More News-Press Craziness

NEWS-PRESS UPDATE: This year’s long, hot, crazy
summer just got a lot hotter and crazier, and promises only to get
hotter still. This Thursday morning, News-Press reporter
Scott Hadley, a well-respected and well-liked
eight-year veteran of the embattled newsroom, announced his
resignation. Hadley cited the front-page missive that appeared in
Thursday morning’s New-Press written by the paper’s owner
and publisher Wendy P. McCaw as the reason for his
decision. In that note to readers, McCaw dismissed the mass exodus
of high ranking editors from her paper, “as disgruntled
ex-employees,” who left because she would no longer allow them to
abuse her paper by using the news pages as a
loudspeaker for their hidden and not-so-hidden
political agendas. Hadley said McCaw’s remarks were so egregiously
insulting and wrong that he could no longer work for her. That the
News-Press has gotten out since last week’s mass exodus
had much to do with Hadley’s much tormented professionalism. With
his departure, other reporters are expected to jump ship, calling
into question just what kind of newspaper the current crew will be
able to produce.

Colin Powers, News-Press presentation
editor, is the latest to resign, citing disgust with McCaw’s
front-page note to readers. Powers, 29, had worked at the
News-Press since interning there in high school. He
described McCaw’s attack on reporters as “vicious and unfounded.”
Powers’s departure will pose a major production challenge for those
left behind trying to get the paper out every day. He designs the
paper’s news, business, and feature sections.

pdf_logo.gif Colin
Powers Resignation (pdf)

In related news, former News-Press columnist
Barney Brantingham, who resigned last week
protesting newsroom interference by co-publishers McCaw and her
fiancé, Arthur von Wiesenberger, received a
threatening letter from McCaw’s San Francisco-based attorney
David Millstein. In an appallingly bizarre twist
on America’s love/hate affair with free speech, we now have a
newspaper threatening to sue a columnist, albeit a former
columnist, for exercising his freedom of speech. If Millstein’s
letter were boiled down to its essence, it would say, “Shut your
pie hole or we’ll sue you to Kingdom Come.” Millstein accused
Brantingham of making false and defamatory remarks about McCaw and
the News-Press because Brantingham said he could no longer
trust the paper and that it had violated journalistic
ethics
. Brantingham cited the paper’s decision to kill a
story about News-Press editorial page editor and acting
publisher Travis Armstrong’s drunk driving sentencing.

Finally, the News-Press’s parent company, Ampersand,
filed a temporary restraining order against former business editor
Michael Todd, accusing Todd of making threatening
remarks to News-Press photographer Ana
Fuentes
, of lurking by the News-Press parking lot
late one evening, and in some unspecified fashion being responsible
for the black wreath by the News-Press
entrance this past Monday morning, with the letters
RIP on top. Todd emphatically denies ever
threatening Fuentes, but does admit he made a dumb joke about
running her over, and acknowledged this offended her. Todd — also
much admired in the newsroom — said he apologized to Fuentes when
she told him his remarks made her feel “creepy.” He also said that
his superior, former managing editor George
Foulsham
, called him on the carpet about the incident but
Foulsham declined to take disciplinary action. Todd said he knew
nothing about the protest wreath until told about it by a reporter
with UCSB’s Daily Nexus. That wreath, it turns out, was
the handiwork of antique shop owner Gary
Breitweiser
. As far as the lurking charge, Todd said he
showed up last Friday night to pick up his personal effects.

Todd resigned last week after having been placed in indefinite
unpaid leave the week prior. According to the News-Press,
Todd’s suspension stemmed from Fuentes’s allegations, then the
subject of an internal News-Press investigation. But Todd
suggested that the real reason for his departure might be because
of the spirited disagreement he and McCaw got
into — in writing — regarding the letters of reprimand he and other
News-Press employees received for revealing the 700
Picacho Lane street address of actor Rob Lowe’s
proposed and controversial 14,000-square-foot dream home. Lowe
complained that his address was mentioned and McCaw responded by
disciplining the article’s writer, Camilla Cohee
and three editors believed to have had a hand in its publication:
Todd, Jane Hulse, and Foulsham.

Enclosed are three documents that might illuminate this dispute.
The first is Wendy P. McCaw’s June 23 letter to Todd, notifying him
of the letter of reprimand. The second document, dated June 28, is
Todd’s response. The third document, dated June 29, is Todd’s
response to her response.

pdf_logo.gif Notice of Reprimand (pdf)

pdf_logo.gif Todd’s Response (pdf)

pdf_logo.gif McCaw’s Last Word (pdf)

In addition, we are enclosing a copy of the article Scott Hadley
wrote last Thursday announcing the resignation of five
editors — the sixth had yet to go. Hadley had hoped that the
News-Press might publish a news account of what happened,
given that media outlets from around the world had done so. His
piece would never see the light of the News-Press day;
instead readers were greeted by a soft-focus, feel-good, opus de
mush by News-Press editorial page editor and now acting
publisher Travis Armstrong, explaining that at the
News-Press — as in any family — there are bound to be
heated disagreements and that the editors in question left because
they were unhappy with the paper’s increased focus on more and
better local news. In this Thursday’s News-Press, McCaw
dramatically shifted rhetorical gears, describing what had been
cast as a family disagreement to a passel of disgruntled
ex-employees unable to use the paper for their own
political purposes.

While the story of the News-Press meltdown obviously
appeals to our local prurient interest, it has achieved a degree of
national interest that amazes and confounds even
those at the middle of the firestorm. Santa Barbara Planning
Commissioner Bill Mahan was back in Iowa last
week, celebrating his 55-year high school reunion. When the Fourth
of July parade was rained out, Mahan and his few remaining
classmates gathered in the garage of a former classmate, Tim
Tisdale, to chat. When Tisdale, who never left the small town of
2,500 where Mahan had grown up, asked what people wanted to talk
about, Mahan opined that sex, religion, and politics were probably
out, so what could be left? At that point, Tisdale lunged forth,
and demanded, “What’s going on with that newspaper of yours? And
who is this Travis Armstrong guy?”

WHO’LL DEFEND THE DEFENDER? Maybe there’s
something in the water, but a similar meltdown has seized the
county’s Public Defender’s office. On Thursday afternoon,
Jim Egar, Santa Barbara public defender for the
past six years, announced his resignation and began clearing out
his desk. Egar — who is reportedly leaving under great duress — is
giving the county two whole days notice and will begin work next
week as the Monterey County Public Defender.
Precipitating Egar’s abrupt and stormy resignation was an equally
stormy and tumultuous relationship with County Über Excutive
Mike Brown. According to attorneys with the Public
Defender’s office, Egar addressed workers at the North and South
County offices on Wednesday, explaining in great detail the
difficulties — and verbal humiliations — he encountered with Brown.
Brown, known for his tempestuous temper,
reportedly rained profanities upon Egar, showering him with spit.
According to several accounts, Egar reported that Brown told him,
“We got rid of the last public defender and we can get rid of you,
too.”

Egar is widely respected as a serious and competent professional
who takes his job, and his mission, seriously. He reportedly
angered Brown by repeatedly demanding more money for the Public
Defender’s office — which defends people charged with serious
crimes who can’t afford their own attorney. Egar had long
complained that he didn’t have enough budget or deputies to handle
his escalating case load. In recent months, Egar began refusing to
accept certain cases to protest his lack of resources. In addition,
Egar has threatened to take legal action against the County of
Santa Barbara for failing to address the issue of jail
overcrowding
, a serious and escalating problem for 25
years. Egar’s threat of a law suit has not been popular in many
county quarters, especially given the prohibitively astronomical
cost associated with building a new jail in North County. Egar
reportedly drafted a detailed letter itemizing his
complaints
and describing Mike Brown’s abusive and
insulting behavior and gave it to each county supervisor. Egar was
well respected with the county’s judges, some of whom are appalled
at reports of his treatment. Perhaps triggering the latest outburst
are differences between Brown’s office and many Public Defenders
regarding a new incentive plan hatched by the county’s new
personnel chief, Sue Paul. According to the new
plan, attorneys working for the Public Defender’s office would be
considered as management — not attorneys — and their pay increases
would be based on their performance as managers. This plan is
wildly unpopular with many Public Defenders. In fact, senior Public
Defender Michael Ganchow was suspended about three
weeks ago after engaging in a contentious exchange with Paul
regarding the new program. At a meeting with Paul and the public
defenders, Ganchow — regarded as acerbic as he is
intelligent — repeatedly demanded any studies or reports that
traced the evolution of the new policy, how it worked, or that
indicated its possible benefits. By reputation, Paul is notoriously
averse to leaving anything resembling a paper trail, and she
refused Ganchow’s request. (When the county’s Managers’ Association
also asked for documentation of the proposal, she reportedly
refused them too.) When Ganschow grew more aggressive in his
demands, the two agreed to meet privately later, thus allowing the
meeting to proceed. At that later meeting, Ganchow attempted to
tape record the exchange; Paul refused. He then
asked if he could videotape it; she declined. He then asked to
bring in a certified court stenographer; at this point Paul
declared the meeting over. This coupled with some earlier profane
remarks about county executive Mike Brown has landed Ganchow in
hot water. Should the county fire Ganchow, as some
predict, expect a very nasty lawsuit to emerge.

pdf_logo.gif Public Defender (pdf)

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