Saturday, September 15, 2007

Testimony Shows McCaw Cherishes Her "High Profile" Readers

The fourteenth day of testimony in the News-Press/NLRB hearing concluded on Friday afternoon. The hearing will be in recess next week and will resume on Monday September 24th.

By the end of the day, in an apparent acknowledgment that nerves were getting a bit frayed and patience among the attorneys was getting scarcer, Judge William Kocol observed that it was "late in the week."

Earlier in the day News-Press attorneys called an "expert" witness who couldn't qualify as an expert. Being a Deputy Chief of Police for the L.A.P.D. and having served as a post 9-11 government security consultant in Pakistan and Afghanistan may have qualified Daniel Sullivan to testify as to the hazards I.E.D.'s pose to highway traffic in those volatile regions of the world, but they didn't qualify him to testify as to the legality of displaying a banner urging people to "Cancel Your Newspaper Today" on an overpass over Highway 101.

Perhaps the lesson to be learned from all of this is never bring a sledgehammer to drive in a thumbtack.

His inability to testify to anything that could be received into evidence meant that NLRB attorney Brian Gee was deprived of the opportunity to ask the cross-examiner's favorite question of an opposing party's expert; "How much have you been paid for your opinion?"

From an observer's point of view, the hearing got more interesting towards the end of the afternoon when editorial page editor Travis Armstrong was called as a witness.

Soft spoken as he testified from his seat on the witness stand it was hard to imagine Armstrong being threatening and angry as he reportedly was back in June when he confronted executive director Kristin Amyx over the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce's decision to cancel its subscription to the paper.

In response to questions by Barry Cappello he described his educational background which includes a degree in journalism from College of St. Thomas in Minnesota, a Masters in Anthropology from Temple University and a law degree from UCLA.

He joined the News-Press in January of 2002 and when asked why McCaw chose to make him acting publisher of the paper when she and her co-publisher boyfriend went abroad on vacation in July of 2006 Armstrong seemed to be a bit unsure other than to say, "I think she trusts me."

Cappello asked Armstrong to recount the Rob Lowe incident. Armstrong testified how on an early evening late in June of 2006 between 5 and 6 pm he got a phone call from Lowe.

"I'm calling you . . . I don't know who else to talk to there," Lowe began. According to Armstrong Lowe was terribly concerned about his address (which had been mentioned several times earlier that day at a planning hearing) being in the paper. He had small children and had experienced prior incidents of stalking.

Armstrong told Lowe that while he didn't directly supervise the news staff he would let the editors know about his concerns.

A copy of an e-mail from Armstrong to managing editor George Foulsham and city editor Jane Hulse (executive editor Jerry Roberts was on vacation at the time) was then projected onto the screen in the courtroom.

"Rob Lowe called me and I told him I'd forward his concern onto the proper editor. Mr. Lowe is concerned about the publication of his address." (There was more to the e-mail but that's all I could write down before it was taken off the screen.)

Armstrong apparently lacked the personal knowledge to testify as to when Foulsham or Hulse saw the e-mail or how they handled it because Cappello never asked him any questions about that. (According to Michael Shnayerson's account of the News-Press melt-down that appeared in the October 2006 issue of Vanity Fair magazine, the e-mails went unread.) The article ran in the June 22nd edition of the paper and the address (which was of a vacant lot) appeared in the story.

The next day Lowe's assistant called Armstrong and said the Lowes were canceling their subscription to the paper because their request to have their address removed was not honored.

I guess Armstrong must have seen "The Godfather" because he followed consigliere Tom Hagen's advice that one should always inform his boss immediately of bad news. In a meeting later that day Armstrong told McCaw what had happened with the Lowes. After listening to Armstrong, McCaw stated that she was going to write some letters of reprimand.

Shown on the screen in the courtroom was a memo from McCaw to Folusham. "Mr. Lowe's home address was an unnecessary detail of the story . . . it has damaged our credibility with the Lowe family and potentially with other high profile readers." In another part of the letter, McCaw went on to say; "In yesterday's meeting it was agreed that no celebrity addresses would be published. I would like to extend that clause to say no addresses are to be published."

The letter concluded by stating that any future violations of this policy would result in more severe disciplinary action including possible dismissal.

And it was on that note that the hearing was recessed for the day.

The direct examination of Armstrong will continue when the hearing resumes in the last week of September.

* * *

Have something good to say about the News-Press or Wendy McCaw? Documentary filmmaker Sam Tyler will be rolling his camera at the Santa Barbara Farmer's Market on Cota Street this morning, Saturday, September 15th, from 9:00 am to 10:30 am. His film crew wants to talk with people who support McCaw and the News-Press.

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