Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Coyotes Are Sacred But It's Open Season On News Reporters

I know that that being called to testify as a witness is seldom a pleasant experience or a happy occasion. But as I watched Wendy McCaw on the witness stand during yesterday's News-Press/NLRB hearing I couldn't help but think that she appeared to be extraordinarily unhappy.

She no longer looks anything like the photo she runs of herself in the News-Press from time to time, the one showing her with with blond shoulder length hair and a sparkling smile. During her nearly four hours on the witness stand she never once cracked even the faintest semblance of a smile.

The hair is completely gray now. It's not styled or fashionably cut, just piled on top of her head. There's no gleam in her eyes and not a sparkle of personality.

She looked like someone central casting would have sent over if you had asked for an "uptight church lady." And yes, uptight indeed. I don't advocate drug usage but I couldn't help but think that this woman needs to take a "chill pill."

Testifying under oath or not testifying under oath, how can anyone this rich be so unhappy? But unhappy she was. Dressed down as opposed to dressed up and sour and dour. She's the frump de grump.

Now that her testimony has been completed it is evident that News-Press attorney Barry Cappello had no choice but to call her as a witness if he wanted to be able to make two key parts of his case stick, his defense that the firings of reporters Melinda Burns and Anna Davison were justified on the grounds of bias.

It turns out that McCaw sees bias in places where no other person would suspect or find it. Most of her discontent was with the reporting of Davison and was long-standing to boot.

It turns out that covering a science and environmental beat for a newspaper owned by McCaw is like walking in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Writing a story that touches on issues of wildlife management (which is apparently an oxymoron in McCaw's book) is like tiptoeing through a mine field when Wendy occupies the publisher's suite.

For example, take the story that Davison wrote back on April 4th of last year under the headline, "Island foxes may be in for baby boom." What fault could one possibly find with that?

Plenty according to Wendy. "It bought into the theory that by killing off all the pigs it would allow the foxes to flourish."

In a note she made on the article at the time McCaw wrote of Davison "continued biased reporting, she's a shill for the Feds." When questioned about the note she expanded on her criticism of Davison saying "she's their handmaiden."

The territory was no less treacherous when Davison wrote a story on sea otters. When McCaw was asked what she found wrong with that article she testified that Davison didn't "have anything positive to say about the otters." I guess Davison's lead sentence describing them as "a fuzzy creature featured in children's books and on calendars" didn't count.

What she testified to in court was mild compared to what she put in writing to then publisher Joe Cole in a memo dated April 8, 2006 that was introduced into evidence.

If things weren't already bad enough with her biased reporting, Anna Davison has now become a mouthpiece for the Feds and Nature Conservancy regarding Santa Cruz Island and the fishermen regarding otters. Anything we write about on the editorial pages, apparently someone feels the need to write the opposite on the news pages. Virtually every time we write something on the editorial page, she comes out with the latest press release from the Feds. Her "article" . . . was pejorative, calling the otters "voracious eaters" and it was again biased in favor of the fisherman against the sea otter. Her reporting only has one side and it's hers.

It wasn't only Davison who drew McCaw's wrath. Early on in her testimony she was asked about an article that Barney McManigal wrote about a coyote problem in Hope Ranch. At one point, Judge Kocol who had a copy of the article in his hand, interrupted her testimony and asked, "Mrs. McCaw, explain to me . . . tell me what in your view was biased" about this article? "It was anti-coyote" McCaw replied. Her claim that there was "mass hysteria" in Hope Ranch over the coyote population issue was met with audible laughter in the nearly packed courtroom.

There were a few instances in her testimony where it seemed like she was nearly going to cross the line from dispassionate witness into animal rights fanatic.

In fact, one could sense an anger boiling just under the surface that seemed to threaten to erupt as she described her disdain for pigs being shot to thin out their population or rats being poisoned for the same reason.

Cappello was smart enough to keep her reeled in and the attorneys for the union and the NLRB who cross examined her could never draw her out.

Anyone who came expecting to see McCaw challenged on the more obvious aspects of her hypocrisy in running the paper went away disappointed.

Although she professed to believe in balanced and fair reporting no one asked her the obvious question, why was Jerry Roberts not contacted for his side of the story when an article was allowed to run that smeared him back on April 22nd?

If she really would have fired reporters who hung the banners on the freeway overpass on the additional ground that doing so constituted a distraction and hence a safety hazard to passing motorists, then why didn't she fire her editorial page editor, Travis Armstrong, for driving the wrong way down a one way street with a blood alcohol level that was nearly three times the legal limit? I guess because he didn't have a "McCaw Obey The Law" sign taped to the window of his car at the time.

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At the lunch break, McCaw surprised many of us by walking a block and a half from the Bankruptcy Court to Olio Y Limone. On one side of her was her boyfriend Arthur von Wiesenberger and on the other was Barry Cappello. Photographers followed her the whole way including the KEYT camera operator and the station's reporter Tracy Lehr who got into it with Cappello when she attempted to ask questions. Cappello didn't seem to know who she was and accused her of being rude and uninformed about the case. The scene ended at the door of the restaurant with Lehr telling Cappello; "Have a nice lunch."

By the end of the day they had patched it up with Cappello granting Lehr an on camera interview that ran on the station's newscast at 5, 6 and 11 pm.

* * *

McCaw was followed on the stand by von Wiesenberger who completed his testimony in less than half an hour. The hearing is expected to conclude today.
© 2009 by Craig Smith and