AJR‘s Attorneys Refuse Retraction, Make McCaw’s Claims
Look Silly

In a sternly yet clear December 27, 2006 letter to Stanton
L. Stein
, the attorney hired by News-Press owner
Wendy McCaw (pictured) to sue newspapers and magazines
(including The Santa Barbara Independent), the
American Journalism
‘s attorney flatly refused to run a retraction of
the article on the News-Press meltdown written
by Susan Paterno
. WendyMcCaw.jpg That’s the article that also prompted
McCaw to attack Paterno herself with a lawsuit,
marking perhaps the first time that a newspaper publisher ever used
a court of law to individually threaten a writer. (See Paterno’s
“Santa Barbara Smackdown” here.)

The six-page letter (plus five pages of N-P office
memos and emails/letters to Paterno from PR lady Agnes Huff and laywer David Millstein) from D.C.
lawyer Charles Tobin of the firm Holland and Knight
states that the December 6 retraction demand sent to AJR
only revealed two instances of inaccuracy by Paterno: ajr.jpg that Huff was not also called a CEO and that
McCaw’s fiancee Arthur von Wiesenberger stopped
writing restaurant reviews when he was crowned co-publisher.
[CORRECTION: These were not, as reported here, technically
inaccuracies. Paterno reported that Huff was “communications
manager” for the newspaper, which is what Huff told her, and she
was informed by others of von Wiesenberger status as critic and
co-pub. AJR issued these facts as clarifications, not
corrections.] The magazine, Paterno, and Tobin were able to verify
the other 30 or so claims for retraction and correction as
substantially true.

Tobin’s letter is full of embarrasing blows to McCaw and
company. First of all, Tobin explained that it’s not clear even who
the client is, because Stein is supposedly representing Ampersand
Publishing, yet many of the demands are for individuals, namely
McCaw and von Weisenberger. Also embarrasing for McCaw’s team was
Tobin’s assertion that most of the alleged mistruths were actually
verified by the retraction demand sent to AJR. For
example, McCaw demanded that the magazine retract the suggestion
that management was getting involved in newsroom dealings, but in
the letter, her attorney clearly states that “Ampersand management”
involved itself with “the general direction and quality of news
reporting.” McCaw’s demand also stated that it was misleading to
say that Travis Armstrong “killed” a story while simultaneously
admitting that the article “was not published” after the reporter
submitted it.

The retraction demand also listed problems with Paterno’s
interpretation of events, such as her conclusion that the newspaper
management was trying to silence its critics. Yet Tobin attaches
Millstein’s letter to Paterno and cites it as a clear example of an
attempt to silence Paterno. Also in that letter by Millstein is the
statement that no one from the newspaper’s management would be
doing any interviews whatsoever. That pretty much sums up Paterno’s
line, which McCaw’s attorney disputed, that McCaw “consistently
refused to comment on the upheaval at her newspaper.”

Tobin, a former journalist, reminds McCaw’s lawyer that “courts
in [California] flatly reject all efforts to challenge
substantially truthful statements, such as the reporting in the
‘Santa Barbara Smackdown’ article” and that the state is also
critical of attempts to silence reporting on public affairs via the
“nation’s strongest anti-SLAPP laws, which entitles litigants to
recover their attorney’s fees when faced with meritless challenges
to their First Amendment rights.”

But Tobin’s real home runs are in his last two paragraphs:

“We are frankly dismayed that a news organization like the
Santa Barbara News-Press would adopt the aggressively
anti-free speech approach reflected in its December 6 letter to
AJR and the frivolous lawsuit that your client has filed
against Susan Paterno. Your client’s position is especially
disappointing given the numerous attempts Paterno and AJR
made to speak with the newspaper’s executives. Every item addressed
in your letter would have more appropriately been discussed with
the author before publication had Ampersand Publishing chosen to
accept the invitation for an interview.

“We sincerely hope that the Santa Barbara News-Press
will reconsider its obligations to the journalism community,
abandon its frivolous pursuit of litigation and legal threats, and
commit itself instead to the free and open exchange of ideas, and
the straightforward reporting of the news, that its readers

Well put, Chuck. We’d like to see the same. For more, read the
letter yourself by clicking here.


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