The Firing Line: Just when we thought things had cooled at the News-Press meltdown, Mayor Marty Blum, NP owner Wendy McCaw, her editorial writer Travis Armstrong, journalist Lou Cannon, and former NP editor Jerry Roberts all fired off blasts. At the same time, the feds filed a sizzling charge of wholesale unfair labor practices against the News-Press, setting an August 14 hearing here. To coin a cliche, it looks like a long, hot summer.
On Tuesday, Mayor Blum, who has long suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous snipes from Armstrong, decided to reply via letter to the editor. “Your diatribe against me in the June 1 Santa Barbara News-Press is patently false and full of lies and misleading innuendo.”
Blum said that while she understands the role of an editorial writer to be a watchdog on city matters, he was behaving more like a pit bull. An editorial page editor “has no responsibility to lie, attack, and be just plain mean,” the mayor argued.
For one thing, she denied ever refusing to appear on his radio show and stands ready to do so, even though he banned her. As of Tuesday, the NP had not printed her reply.
Far more serious was Jerry Roberts’s reply to McCaw, published online Tuesday by the Los Angeles Times. Roberts’s commentary, titled “Disintegration of a Newspaper’s Ethics,” charged that McCaw’s recent piece in the Times online edition “was filled with more of the same false, defamatory, and misleading statements and innuendos with which she has attacked me for months, in an effort to find someone to blame for the self-inflicted, widely reported troubles at the News-Press.
“As Lou Cannon properly pointed out,” Roberts continued, “‘Child pornography is evil.’ It is, in my opinion, about the most heinous activity one can be charged with-and McCaw’s vicious attempt to falsely tie me to this material is the most unethical and reckless use of a newspaper I have witnessed as a professional journalist.
“The motive in doing so is to damage and smear my personal and professional reputation at a time when McCaw is suing me in a contract dispute for $25 million. That key fact has somehow never found its way into the pages of the News-Press. Neither have any of my denials or comments about the issue-although the paper dispatched a reporter to cover a press conference my wife and I held to denounce its first story on the subject.”
All this and more, Roberts wrote, “provides a case study of why professional journalists have fled the newsroom in droves since last July 6, when nearly every senior editor departed.
“Since last summer, McCaw has repositioned the paper as a kind of vanity press, whose apparent purpose is to punish her personal and political enemies, to brag on her friends and pet causes, and to align the views of her editorial pages with what is reported in her news pages.
“Her innuendo that I am somehow responsible for or connected to images of child pornography found on a computer [owned by the paper] is a contemptible suggestion that is categorically false and that was published with reckless disregard for the truth with the purpose of destroying me and my career,” Roberts charged.
“Her statement that I ‘wiped’ the hard drive of the computer clean is also a blatant falsehood, unsupported by evidence-and a physical impossibility, given the fact that I was brusquely evicted from the newspaper moments after submitting my departure letter (in which, ironically, I offered to stay 30 days, to ‘ease the transition’).”
This sounds like libel talk. Roberts has previously said he would seek “massive” damages regarding the paper’s April 22 page-one story about the pornography and demanded a retraction. So far, no decision has been made whether he will raise the issue in the ongoing arbitration or file a Superior Court libel action, Dennis Merenbach, one of Roberts’s lawyers, told me.
Ride, Girls, Ride! Four Santa Barbara County women plan to leap onto their bikes next week to join a transcontinental race to raise money for Girls Inc. here. Denise Clark of Goleta, Sonia Ross and Jill Gass of Santa Barbara, and Lisa Tonello of Los
Alamos will join the six-day Race Across America marathon next Tuesday in Ocean-side, heading for Atlantic City. Corporate sponsors are needed. To donate, contact Beth Cleary at Girls Inc., 963-4757.
Serious Drama: Ensemble Theatre is staging a play that’s bound to shock some audiences, which after all is part of the role of live theater. In This Is How It Goes, playwright Neil LaBute confronts us with vile racist language you’re probably not used to hearing but exists out there, and the dynamics of a love triangle involving a white man, a white woman, and her black husband. This is powerful, compelling theater, a drama that twists and turns in surprising ways.