Monday, June 30, 2008

McCaw Plays The Victim, Again

Apparently unable to garner any support or sympathy locally for her jihad against the union that represents her newsroom employees, Santa Barbara News-Press owner Wendy McCaw is trying to drum up support among her fellow publishers.

Evidently the answer is still, no.

Late Thursday she sent out a mass e-mail to other newspaper publishers across the country. A copy of it was provided to me by the publisher of a large metropolitan daily paper. It is reproduced below in its entirety, typos and all. Only the recipient's name has been edited out.

Dear __________:

As owner and publisher of a small town newspaper (the Santa Barbara News-Press, circulation 35,000), I wish someone had alerted me to the tactics employed by unions as they attempt to organize newsrooms.

One of the tactics employed is to promise your employees that they will enjoy some measure of controlling the content of your paper as long as they join the union. The union promises that content control is a “term and condition of employment” and, therefore, is subject to bargaining. The union never bothers to tell the unsuspecting employees that this promise is empty or that the First Amendment guarantees that the owners/publishers are solely vested with the right to control content. I’d like to share with you what happened at the Santa Barbara News-Press so you can avoid a similar situation at your newspaper.


In the summer of 2006, the Teamsters union promised Santa Barbara News-Press reporters that if they joined the union they would be able to write what they wanted, when they wanted, without interference from management. In our case, this was an enticing promise since I had been actively attempting to stem biased reporting in our news coverage.

Throughout 2006 and 2007, the union demanded publicly that I relinquish my right to control what is printed in the Santa Barbara News-Press as part of union negotiations. The union used a series of pressure tactics including, a passing out of flyers at local city events decrying the “ethics” of the Santa Barbara News-Press; hanging disparaging signs on overpasses in Santa Barbara; calling and sending letters to advertisers telling them to stop advertising; picketing with signs containing vicious personal attacks on management, urging subscribers on television and radio to cancel their subscriptions —all this in an attempt to force management to agree to their demands.

Despite the financial toll it took on the paper and the emotional toll on the employees, I knew I could never relinquish my right to control the content of the paper.

After spending millions of dollars defending these rights against union attack, a federal judge finally decided the issue. On May 21, 2008, United States District Court Judge Stephen Wilson found publishers do have a First Amendment right to control the content of their publications and that “the union was organized, in part, to affect (the publisher’s) editorial discretion and undertook continual action to do so.” In other words, unions have no right to dictate the contents of a newspaper and potential union members cannot use editorial content control as a bargaining chip in union negotiations.

The Santa Barbara News-Press’s situation is a cautionary tale for owners/publishers. We must never give up our First Amendment rights to speak and to publish. They are our rights as owners and publishers, not to be tossed aside in favor of others who would seek to control the content of our newspapers.

I hope that you find this helpful and I hope that you are able to use the Santa Barbara News-press’s experience to assist you in monitoring and protecting your paper and, from assault. If I can assist you or provide you with additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me at 805.564.5165

Very truly yours,

Wendy McCaw

So now we have McCaw, who is arguably the biggest enemy of free speech since King George III, suddenly swaddling herself in the First Amendment. How strange is that?

I would contend that no one has done more damage in the name of the First Amendment than Wendy.

After all, this is the same Wendy McCaw who sued writer Susan Paterno for daring to write a magazine article about her and her paper.

The same Wendy McCaw who had her lawyers write threatening cease and desist letters to owners of small businesses who were displaying "McCaw Obey The Law" signs in their windows.

Yes, that Wendy McCaw.

If you have any doubts that the only First Amendment rights that Wendy cares about are her own, consider this.

The right to organize a union or join an existing one is protected by the right to freely associate, which is part of the First Amendment.

In spite of the fact that her newsroom employees voted 33 to 6 in favor of unionizing, McCaw chose to challenge the legitimacy of the union vote rather than sitting down at the negotiating table and bargaining with the union. Doing so certainly would have saved the millions of dollars she admits spending to fight the union.

And did you happen to notice how conveniently McCaw forgets that the union activities she complains about - handing out flyers, displaying signs on overpasses, sending letters to advertisers, and, yes, even picketing - are all activities protected by the First Amendment? Certainly no judge who has listened to the evidence about these activities has ruled otherwise.

Then there's the fact that McCaw has blocked access to numerous websites, including this blog, from News-Press computers. Is that decision motivated by her tender concern for the First Amendment?

And according to Nick Caruso, the chief negotiator for the Graphic Communications Conference of the Teamsters' Union, McCaw has thwarted his attempts to update employees in the union bargaining unit on the negotiations' progress; she blocked his emails to their addresses.

So Mrs. McCaw, you say that you wish that someone had alerted you to the tactics employed by unions? There are a lot of us here in Santa Barbara who wish someone had alerted us to the tactics employed by you.

* * *

Judging from the correspondence I have seen sent to newsroom employees both from Caruso and McCaw, those paper-union bargaining sessions have been anything but a picnic.

The Union was indeed trying to bargain for the implementation of a Code of Ethics at the News-Press, although it fell far short of McCaw's description of it as a guarantee of the ability "to write what they wanted, when they wanted, without interference from management."

One of the main points of the union's proposal on this issue was "byline protection" - the right of a reporter to have his or her name removed from an article if it had been edited or altered in a way the author deemed objectionable. The paper would still have the right to run the story; it just couldn't carry the reporter's name on it.

The News-Press refused to discuss the proposal for a code of ethics, and since it was a subject that did not strictly relate to the mandatory topics of negotiation - "wages, hours or working conditions," the union was forced to pull the code of ethics topic off the table.

McCaw's oft repeated insistence that the First Amendment right to publish belongs to the owners of newspapers raises the question: if a newspaper owner really wants to run a successful business shouldn't she have in mind the First Amendment rights of others and not just her own?