The newest wrinkle in the dispute between PODER and the Santa Barbara News-Press over the paper’s non-compliance with AP standards for reporting on Latino affairs takes the form of a legal threat. News-Press city editor Scott Steepleton recently emailed PODER to inform us “to cease and desist all copyright and trademark infringement immediately.” This is due to the appearance of the newspaper’s masthead in the background of PODER’s call to boycott the paper posted on our Facebook page.
The dispute between PODER and the SBNP began in January when PODER and other civil rights advocates requested the paper to stop using the word “illegal” to describe Latino immigrants. The newspaper has responded that this language is perfectly acceptable and that any request to change it is an attack on its free speech. To illustrate that point, News-Press co-owner Arthur Von Wiesenberger encouraged local Minutemen and Tea Partiers to put on a counterdemonstration to PODER’s planned civil rights activities for MLK day. Though Wiesenberger has apparently denied inviting the Minutemen to De La Guerra Plaza, PODER has discovered evidence of his correspondence with renown anti-immigrant vigilante James Gilchrist at the Minutemen’s own website.
Given the newspaper’s waffling stance on the issue of free speech, it would seem that the owners of the SBNP view the line between acceptable and unacceptable speech as one tied to the race/class standing of the speakers. According to a Supreme Court decision reached in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, speech is better represented by money than votes. This means the more money you have, the more free speech you get. After a federal judge awarded News-Press co-owner Wendy McCaw the right to use the newspaper as a mouthpiece for her right-wing political ideologies based on her ownership of the paper, it is clear that those who don’t have a lot of cash to purchase their own newspapers and radio stations have fewer options to similarly express their opinions.
This is in keeping with the age of the oligarch and a zeitgeist that increasingly views “the little people” as a public nuisance.
PODER represents a constituency of oppressed and marginalized people the dominant Santa Barbara establishment has grown used to bullying and intimidating. The SBNP has frequently manipulated information, stories, and headlines to create negative narratives about people of color and those of little means and has thus been responsible for perpetuating racism, discrimination, and stereotypes in this city. Under the banner of the first amendment, the SBNP has insisted on its freedom to misrepresent an entire race and class of people by routinely depicting them as “domestic terrorists” and “thugs.” The newspaper’s tactic of ridiculing and misrepresenting black and brown cultures effectively silences them in the media and erases them from relevant participation in their communities.
The consequences of this can be found most recently at San Marcos High School, where Latino students have been derided as “illegals” by classmates lacking any greater racial awareness than that learned from the News-Press.
So what does free speech mean in the age of the oligarch?
When McCaw first purchased the Santa Barbara News-Press in 2000, it lead to the mass resignations and firings of reporters and staff who resisted the imposition of her political bias on the newspaper. Other employees who have attempted to unionize at the News-Press have been harshly repressed, and though the newspaper frequently features headlines decrying the presence of undocumented Latinos in Santa Barbara, this has not stopped it from employing them: much of the delivery of the SBNP falls to undocumented workers.
Such double-standards in employment and free speech might be termed hypocrisy by some were it not for the fact that too many of Santa Barbara’s elites seem to suffer the permanent impairment of their sense of irony. The affliction of “affluenza” might contribute to this problem since it is a mental health disability preventing the uber-class from making fine moral distinctions due to the stultifying effects of their wealth. For those who may not have heard of this condition, it was argued successfully in the case of a wealthy 16-year-old boy who killed four pedestrians while driving drunk in Texas. Attorney’s successfully pleaded that Ethan Couch was not responsible for his actions due to his innate sense of entitlement and privilege stemming from his social position in life. The judge concurred and Couch received a ten-year probation sentence.
We at PODER understood that taking on the News-Press for its racist depiction of Latinos put us in the position of the proverbial David versus Goliath. We are well aware of the fact that News-Press co-owner Wendy McCaw has a long history of suing people she disagrees with in order to censor them. She has threatened or brought lawsuits against employees attempting to unionize at the News-Press, as well as local businesses showing support for them by displaying signs in their storefront windows. This is in addition to countless more lawsuits she has brought against other newspapers, journalists, websites, and former employees who have had the temerity to speak out against the lack of journalistic integrity and public accountability of the News-Press. We feel that the censorship of her staff over issues of best journalistic practices at the newspaper is probably why the SBNP continues to view as problematic the right of others to speak out and be heard.
Yet we at PODER remain committed to speaking truth to power and refuse to be censored by Santa Barbara News-Press owners Wendy McCaw and Arthur von Wiesenberger.
For this reason, PODER continues to call for a general boycott of the Santa Barbara News-Press and urges businesses and community organizations to pull their advertising from its pages until the paper complies with accepted AP reporting standards on the issue of immigration and Latino affairs. At PODER, we believe that fair and ethical standards of journalism should prevail in our news media and we are committed to working for the equitable representation of our diverse, multi-cultural, Santa Barbara community.