Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Judge: "McCaw Violated the Law."

Just when I thought I was out, I got pulled back in.

In this case "out" meant taking a vacation from blogging. But nothing can put an early end to a vacation, or a New Year's Eve, like the sound of Wendy McCaw being slapped up one side of De la Guerra Plaza and down the other by a labor law judge who pulled no punches.

There's nothing like being at home on the last day of vacation before school is to start up again, and being told, "by the way, you have a 75 page reading assignment that's due tomorrow morning."

That's about how many pages it took administrative law judge William G. Kocol to completely shred the News-Press' defense that its firing of eight reporters was justified by claims of biased reporting and disloyalty.

The judge would have none of it.

In ripping apart the News-Press' evidence Kocol singled out Travis Armstrong and Scott Steepleton, part of the paper's management, pointing out that Steepleton seemed "overeager to answer in the affirmative to blatantly leading questions." He describes Steepleton's demeanor as being "entirely unimpressive" with a "smirking quality" to it.

As an example, Kocol referred to Steepleton's assertion, made in his testimony, that he didn't want to have employees' performance evaluated by their friends, yet he evaluated his wife and gave her a perfect score.

He similarly found Armstrong to be "not particularly impressive" with the content of his testimony seeming "exaggerated more to make a point than to relay the facts."

Many people who have been reading Armstrong's columns and editorials for the past five or so years would probably agree.

Indeed for McCaw and the News-Press this was a first class trip to the wood shed except that at least in the wood shed the humiliation takes place in private. This is a very public spanking.

For the doubters who had questions as to whether McCaw has the unfettered right, no matter how wrong-headed she may be, to run her paper without regard to the rights of her union employees, the judge has answered a couple of key questions.

First, "employees may urge consumers to withhold patronage from an employer with whom the employees have a labor dispute." Hence, urging readers to "cancel your newspaper today" even when that exhortation is made from the top of a freeway overpass is protected activity which the six reporters who displayed that banner could not be fired for.

Second, McCaw had so personally injected herself into the anti-union campaign that the wearing of buttons reading "McCaw Obey the Law" could not be banned from the workplace. And besides, even the judge noted that he himself and concluded that McCaw has violated the law.

And lastly, could reporters Anna Davison and Melinda Burns be fired for writing "biased" articles? As the judge noted, they were the only reporters in the history of the News-Press to ever be terminated for that stated reason. The fact that they were vocal union supporters was too much of a coincidence for the judge.

There was one minor point that the News-Press prevailed upon. Although they have been ordered to rehire and reinstate the eight fired reporters, they are not required to rehire assistant city editor Bob Guiliano.

That bizarre email he wrote to Wendy after he was fired proved to be a very expensive one. The judge felt it displayed a level of "familiarity" that seemed inappropriate and that since he was a manager that would have to work directly with Steepleton, Wendy and Arthur, the News-Press had met its burden of showing that he should not be reinstated.

So how did the News-Press cover this story? There is an article in this morning's paper of less than 250 words giving the briefest of summaries of the judge's ruling.

That's about 550 words short of the length of this blog post.

The article fails to give any sense of the sweeping rebuke to McCaw and the News-Press' long-standing positions on the labor issues.

It's a little like reviewing the final performance of "Our American Cousin" at Ford's Theater and making no mention of the fact that the president was assassinated while watching the third act.

And of course there's Wendy McCaw's annual New Year's Day message to readers which you can read in its entirety for free on the PDF version of page one of today's News-Press.

She claims that in 2007 "we had a "busy and productive year at the Santa Barbara News-Press."

Busy if you like to litigate that is.

"We expanded our local news coverage in various ways, from local columnists covering diverse aspects of our community to an internationally recognized columnist bringing the local 'buzz'."

That "buzz" doesn't include an account of the haircut Judge Kocol gave to Barry Cappello.

And by the way, "how did you like the play Mrs. Lincoln?"