SCRATCH AND SNIFF: Wendy P. McCaw, you ain’t no Spiro T. Agnew. While I don’t pretend I ever knew Spiro T., he and I do share the same birthday. Better yet, my godfather happened to be the judge who disbarred the former Vice Prez after he was forced to resign from office over a kick-back and tax-evasion scheme that landed him in legal hot water.
Back in the day, Spiro T. – who served under Richard M. Nixon – decided to go on the offensive against the media for its lack of support for a war that should never been waged: the Vietnam war. But even Agnew knew if he was going off half-cocked, he’d better hire decent wordsmiths – William Safire and Pat Buchanan – to get his message across. As a result, we all now can enjoy such ageless wonders as “nattering nabobs of negativism,” “pusillanimous pussyfoots,” and “hopeless, hysterical, hypochondriacs of history.”
In this past Sunday’s paper, News-Press owner, publisher, and destroyer Wendy P. let loose the dogs of war upon her critics: reporter and syndicated columnist Lou Cannon in particular. Wendy’s message proved as delusional as ever, but her conspicuous lack of style shows there are no real editors left at the News-Press in the wake of the blood-bath that commenced 11 months ago.
The best she could come up with to gloss over her tired old recitation of lies and half truths was to call Cannon – about as revered and respected a grey beard in the field of journalism today – a member of “the journalistic elite,” and accuse him to being callous and indifferent to the suffering of child porn’s young victims.
What put Cannon in such bad company? He wrote a guest commentary for the Los Angeles Times opinion page two Sundays ago in which he attacked McCaw for sinking to new lows in her ongoing jihad to slime former News-Press editor Jerry Roberts, whom McCaw is now suing for $25 million. Roberts quit about a year ago, charging that McCaw sought to use the news pages to protect her friends and punish her enemies. This in turn led to the litigation, which conspicuously was never mentioned in the News-Press‘ front page article it published a month ago linking Roberts with a failed child porn investigation.
That article detailed efforts by the News-Press to regain custody of several disc drives it turned over to Santa Barbara police many months ago after the newspaper’s forensic computer experts found trace images of child porn on them. The police are holding onto the discs on the grounds that mere possession is a crime. The News-Press wants them back.
Although the only name linked in the News-Press article to these computer drives was that of Roberts, the Santa Barbara Police Department, the Santa Barbara Sheriffs Department, and the District Attorneys office all declined to press charges or to prosecute. They argued because the discs may have had two or three other owners prior to Roberts it would be impossible to tie him – or anyone – to the crime. Case closed.
In McCaw’s keening jeremiad this past Sunday, she suggests that her only motivation is to find out the identity of the monster exploiting young children for sick and immoral purposes. That Cannon seeks to ally himself with Roberts, as opposed to the exploited children, just demonstrates that the “misery of these exploited children is meaningless to [Cannon].” In conclusion, McCaw throws down the gauntlet to Cannon. “It is now apparent to all where your true sympathies lie,” she writes.
All this, of course, is the clumsiest sort of posturing. Had the News-Press wanted to pursue its investigation without sliming Roberts, they easily could have. And in fact, they initially did just that, as anyone trying to track the initial court filings on the matter can attest. The first legal demands filed by News-Press attorney Barry Cappello were so oblique and opaque that even if you knew what he was talking about, you still didn’t know what he was talking about. Never once was Roberts’ named mentioned. Never once was kiddy porn mentioned. It was a dispute over the custody of discs for reasons not altogether clear.
But most of the media in town knew what the real story was. They wouldn’t touch it. They knew that there are certain crimes that tar the accused forever no matter how innocent they may be. Child porn is right up there on that list. Most reporters also knew why law enforcement didn’t pursue the matter. Until more definite facts emerged, we were happy to let that sleeping dog lie. But the News-Press wasn’t, and its subsequent efforts to awaken slumbering canines produced the now infamous article. Highlighting the extent to which bad faith was involved, the article came with no by-line attached.
Wendy’s Sunday screed contained several of her usual distortions, and a few new ones. For example, she claimed the reason Roberts’ old computer discs were searched was to find the names and addresses of stringers and freelancers. But when I spoke to her attorney Barry Cappello a few weeks ago, he said the company was hoping to find information on the computer discs that would be harmful to Roberts in the News-Press legal battle with the former editor. That’s a horse of different color. Or is that a tale of another dog? He also suggested that the discs might have information that might prove useful in the conduct of the business.
Wendy also took Cannon to task for never contacting her before launching his attack, never seeking her side of the story. I have no idea whether Cannon ever made such an effort, but if he did so, it was surely a waste of energy. All our efforts to contact Mz. McCaw have gone for naught. In addition, we even offered her a chance to communicate directly with our readers through any article of any length she cared to write. Because we understand how she might not trust us, we promised to not change a single word. We’re still waiting.
And when we contact News-Press employees – like editor Scott Steepleton – seeking comment on legitimate news stories, we get letters back from News-Press attorneys threatening to sue us for harassment. Yet Wendy wonders why the reporting on the News-Press mess is so one-sided.
In Sunday’s commentary, McCaw once again describes herself as a champion of bias-free news reporting. Once again, she intimates the whole fuss started when she stopped a couple of head-strong newsroom ideologues from publishing whatever pap, swill, and propaganda with which they wished to brainwash unsuspecting readers into their nefarious schemes to pave paradise and put up parking lots.
Once again, she mentioned how a reader survey taken in 2005 showed that 64 percent of the readers were worried about bias in the newsroom. I have no doubt that’s accurate, but it’s only a portion of the real story. It’s also the case that about 65 percent of all newspaper readers of all newspapers throughout the country have the exact same concern. That’s a constant fact of life in the journalism business.
What McCaw doesn’t tell you is that most of the respondents also worried that the Santa Barbara News-Press editorial page editor – Travis Armstrong – wielded undue influence over the news content of the News-Press. Given that Travis does his utmost best to reflect Wendy’s wildly erratic worldview accompanied by a special brand of nastiness usually reserved for toxic waste dumps, this concern does not bode well for Ms. McCaw.
But again, this revelation is not special or unique to the News-Press. It turns out most readers of most papers worry that the news they get is colored by the biases championed by that paper’s editorial pages. But as much as Wendy holds herself out as the champion of bias-free reporting, she has yet to respond to any of the thousands of requests that she provide a single example of what she’s talking about. When you cut through all of Wendy’s high-minded gobbledy-gook, the only principal she really seems to care about is the right of rich people to do whatever they want with whatever bauble they happen to buy.
As Lesley Gore sang way back when, “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.” But in Wendy’s case, she’s not happy unless we all cry too.
How, I wonder, would my man Spiro T. Agnew have put it? “Let them eat cake”? Nope, that line’s already been taken.