Attack of Reporter Susan Paterno Marks New Low for Journalism

Published in various newspapers across the country yesterday was
Associated Press reporter Greg Risling’s story
about the lawsuit filed last week in Orange County against Susan
Paterno, a writer for the well-respected American Journalism
. ajr.jpg Today, The Indy obtained a copy of
that lawsuit, and you can read it
here in PDF form

Paterno wrote the article entitled “Santa Barbara Smackdown,” a
touching portrait of the meltdown at the News-Press and
probably the most thorough investigation of what happened before,
during, and since the crash. The SB Media Blog covered her story here. (Paterno also wrote about the lawsuit against The Indy, and we wrote
about that article here.)

In brief, the lawsuit claims that Paterno, 48, a professor at
Chapman University and a reporter for AJR for a decade,
engaged in libel and “product disparagement.” (Oddly enough, the
suit claims that Paterno’s article hurt “Santa Barbara’s residents
as well.”) The plaintiff, which is technically Ampersand Publishing
and represented by Stanton
L. Stein
of Santa Monica’s Alschuler Grossman
Stein & Kahan
firm (the same guy suing The Indy),
is seeking damages. Of course, we are not surprised at this legal
lob, for it’s just the latest in a seemingly endless string of

What is surprising, however, is that an individual reporter is
being attacked. That’s plain stinky for a journalistic institution
to even consider, entirely unfair in a country that prides itself
on free speech, and clearly a means to inhibit free speech and
intimidate other reporters who might be working on the story. It’s
likely an attempt to scare off the person who’s supposedly doing a
documentary on the News-Press meltdown and anyone else who
might be completing pieces, whether on paper, online, on video, or
on radio. And we wouldn’t be surprised if there was a book or two
in the works, considering the high number of good reporters,
writers, and editors who have been fired or resigned from the

Another odd twist is that Paterno’s story explains that she
attempted to contact Wendy McCaw and other top level N-P
folks to get their side of the story. They declined interviews
through their hired PR gal Agnes Huff, as they have the entire
time. WendyMcCaw.jpg How can McCaw then legitimately claim
that she was mistreated, if she declined involvement in the first
place? Additionally, the AP article explains that AJR‘s
attorneys vetted the story, which makes it all the more bizarre
that McCaw thinks her suit will go anywhere. Doesn’t she know that
attorneys often just tell rich people exactly what they want to
hear? Remember Wendy, they get paid no matter which way the cookie

But perhaps most intriguing is that, for the first time, the
general public is given a lengthy look at what could be best termed
“Wendy McCaw’s Version of Events.” According to the lawsuit,
McCaw’s side of the story is that Jerry Roberts, a highly decorated editor with as
strong a track record as anyone in the business, was incompetent
and let individual reporters’ biases leak into their stories. The
lawsuit goes on to portray McCaw and her cohorts as the face of
change in the newsroom, the proud warriors who were bringing back
objectivity and ethics to the newsroom.

Really? Then why haven’t a flock of good reporters from L.A.,
S.F., and N.Y.C. been knocking down the doors? And why does
everyone else on the planet seem to see it otherwise? The lawsuit
goes on to identify 33 sentences in Paterno’s story that aren’t
true, at least according to “Wendy McCaw’s Version of Events.” Most
of these are supported with the flat denials, even sentences that
Paterno attributed to a source. Check it out, because it makes for
some entertaining reading. Oh, and even we can verify at least one
of the claims: Agnes Huff is not the “communications manager;”
she’s just a PR consultant.

Well, at least we now know why she doesn’t do interviews: Even
when her attorneys write her lines, McCaw comes off as silly,
ridiculous, and, well, incompetent.

We ask it again: How many of these lawsuits need to be filed
until the anti-SLAPP law can be invoked? (By the way, the
News-Press back in 1992 wrote an
in support of the state’s anti-SLAPP laws. What’s
their stance on the statutes now?) Aren’t these lawsuits clearly
means of restricting free speech?


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