At lunchtime today, Wednesday, March 21, “Operation Cold Shoulder” — the community group supporting fired News-Press staffers and advocating for owner Wendy McCaw to get out of the newsroom — are staging yet another protest outside of the newspaper’s headquarters in De la Guerra Plaza. This time, however, the protest will focus not just on the allegedly illegal firings, the unionization drive, and unethical mismanagement of the paper. This time, the protest will also draw attention to the paper’s response to last week’s gang stabbing on State Street. According to protest organizers, the newspaper’s editorial page editor Travis Armstrong unfairly, irresponsibly, and viciously attacked City Hall after the crime in both his occasional column and in the paper’s editorials.
Explained organizer Cathy Murillo former Indy reporter, occasional contributor, and proud Chicana), “Today, we’re also mad about how the News-Press has been covering the youth stabbing death. Reporter Scott Steepleton misquoted and/or twisted the words of city councilman Grant House to the point that House had to issue a public statement to clarify his remarks and actions after the incident. And the News-Press has been running hateful letters-to-the-editor as well as the usual irresponsible editorials that attack elected officials rather than advance solutions. This is a time when journalism could help the community understand complex social issues and human behavior. News coverage and columns should not divide us further.”
Murillo is referring to the articles, columns, editorials, and one-sided letters that were published after the stabbing in the News-Press. The news report that sparked the responding editorials and letters was written by Scott Steepleton , and included a quotation from Councilmember Grant House that he felt “pretty good” about the situation and that he tried to make sure that some of the suspects weren’t being mistreated by the police. Letter writers jumped on House, asking him to resign because they were offended that he tried to intervene in police affairs.
Ensuing editorials written by Travis Armstrong (pictured) argued, “[C]ity, school and religious leaders should take responsibility as well. In the aftermath of last Wednesday’s violence, when the community was looking for leadership and an action plan, there was a void at City Hall and the school district. For example, City Councilman Grant House’s comments in the News-Press infuriated many residents who believed they demonstrated a disregard for public safety. As the city was reeling from the gang melee, Mr. House then apparently left town to attend a conference for government planners at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park, according to reports. The council’s secretary yesterday said Mr. House was away. He didn’t return our call by our deadline.”
In other editorials and columns, Armstrong said that “city and school officials have preferred to use PR spin rather than take real steps to address the gang problem;” that “the council… — except for perhaps Councilmen Roger Horton and Das Williams — has done little to help our community’s young people as it focuses on pet causes;” that “our city politicians try to portray themselves as liberal social do-gooders. But they can treat their jobs as hobbies, a source of free dinner tickets and invitations to nice events, and a platform to make grand statements about societal change and helping the downtrodden;” and that the council’s stabbing response “reminded me of those awful days in 2002 when Mayor Marty Blum was too busy attending Fiesta parties to read the police report on the drowning death of a 14-year-old girl who died after suffering an epileptic seizure while swimming as part of a city aquatics program.” Armstrong also wrote, “Shame on any council member who points to the [recently opened teen] center as a cure-all or even a Band-Aid.”
House, however, believes that his comments were misconstrued in Steepleton’s article. The councilmember explained in a response letter emailed to most media outlets that he never tried to interfere with the police’s investigation and that he continued with his trip to Yosemite for a water conservation conference because he was already on the road and figured that another elected official in town was not going to “make things appreciably better.”
And then yesterday, at the Santa Barbara City Council meeting, Councilmember Brian Barnwell, who’s become a main target for Armstrong in recent weeks, advised House to speak with Chris Meagher of the Daily Sound who would get his quotations correct. See video of that advice here.
A series of questions were emailed to News-Press attorney Barry Cappello at 10:20 a.m. this morning, and his answers will be added if he decides to respond. He had not yet replied at 11:30 a.m. At 2 p.m., Cappello declined to comment on these journalistic, non-legal matters.
MORE PROTESTS, MORE NEWS, AND MORE MEDIA: In addition to today’s protest, there is a “Reinstate the Eight” rally scheduled for this Saturday, March 24, at 1:30 p.m. in De la Guerra Plaza, which is organized by the fired reporters and their Teamsters union. On Sunday, there will be a much needed community forum sponsored by the Greater Santa Barbara Clergy Association at the First United Methodist Church, 305 East Anapamu Street from 3 to 4:45 p.m. All are invited, including News-Press management, to discuss the situation and how it’s affecting the community. Then next Wednesday, there will be another “Wake Up Wendy” picket by community members during the lunch hour from noon to 1 p.m. in De la Guerra Plaza.
In related news, Operation Cold Shoulder has had to stop their letter-writing campaign to News-Press advertisers under legal advice that suggests they may be “extremely vulnerable to a lawsuit from Wendy McCaw.” In the meantime, they are considering other “less-dangerous options.”
And just in case you thought the rest of the media world was tuning out to the News-Press situation, it seems that only more are paying attention. Last week’s stories on Independent.com were picked up by blogs, newspapers, and other media outlets all over the world. Specifically, Molly Freedenberg’s wrap-up of the Jerry Roberts roast in San Francisco was cited in numerous reports, but most extensively in this radio report from KCRW’s Minding the Media series.