Former N-P Editor Fires Back at Wendy McCaw
Wendy McCaw, owner of the Santa Barbara News-Press,
used her lawsuit against an American Journalism
Review writer to “publicly attack and defame” former
editor Jerry Roberts (pictured receiving the Society of
Professional Journalists ethics award), his attorney contends.
McCaw’s recent suit in an Orange County court against Susan
Paterno (download that
here in PDF form), author of the recent “Santa Barbara Smackdown” piece in the
AJR, accuses Paterno of defamation regarding the
News-Press and “trade libel.” But it was also a
“calculated end-run” around current arbitration proceedings to
trash Roberts’ reputation, San Francisco attorney Andrine
K. Smith told The Independent on Wednesday.
Roberts, former managing editor of the San Francisco
Chronicle, resigned from the News-Press in early July
amid staff complaints that McCaw was interfering with news
coverage. Since then, about 30 newsroom staffers have left,
including this writer, and several were fired
during the resulting unionization effort.
McCaw (pictured) then filed a $500,000 claim against Roberts now
under arbitration proceedings, which are supposed to be kept
confidential. But McCaw’s suit “is not just about
Susan Paterno or the AJR story,” said Roberts’ attorney.
“We believe it is just as much about Jerry Roberts.” It is “a
calculated end-run around the confidentiality protections of the
arbitration proceedings filed by (McCaw) against Mr. Roberts and
provides the means for Ms. McCaw to publicly attack and defame Mr.
Roberts with impunity under the absolute protection of the
litigation privilege.” Under California law, anything said in a
lawsuit or litigation, no matter how defamatory, cannot be used in
a libel suit against the person making the statements.
“We concur with the numerous other commentators that the suit is
but the latest attempt by Ms. McCaw to intimidate and silence those
who speak out against her, or who report on those who speak out
against her, and is intended to have a chilling effect on anyone
who might consider doing so in the future,” Smith said. (For more
details on what might happen to anyone trying to “have a chilling
effect” on public participation, see the California Anti-SLAPP
Project at casp.net.)
McCaw’s suit claimed that the AJR piece was “nothing
but a biased, false, and misleading diatribe” against the
News-Press. It was “one-sided” and “false and defamatory,”
the suit alleged. In addition to lobbing critical barbs at Roberts,
the suit included a claim that he “became verbally abusive” with
McCaw, leading her to stop speaking to him, apparently for the last
two years of his tenure. Her suit exposed much dirty laundry about
mounting newsroom tensions since she bought the paper in 2000.
AJR editor Rem Rieder defended
Paterno’s account, which cited many issues related to the upheaval
at the paper since early July. “This story is carefully reported, carefully
fact-checked,” Rieder said in a December 19 story in Editor &
Publisher. “Suing the writer like this is just a form of
intimidation,” he said. “It is particularly unfortunate to see
something like this from someone who owns a newspaper. You’d think
someone who owns a newspaper would be committed to free
Although McCaw sued writer Paterno as an individual and not
AJR, Rieder said the paper would provide legal support for
Paterno, who is director of the journalism program at Chapman
University in Orange, California. AJR is published by the
University of Maryland.