Monday, June 16, 2008

They Weren't Popping the Champagne For This Ruling

In the end, the only question in my mind after reading last Friday's court decision telling Wendy McCaw she has no libel case against reporter Susan Paterno was, "what took 'em so long?"

I thought McCaw's claims that Paterno had defamed her Santa Barbara News-Press were groundless from the outset.

You don't have to be a First Amendment expert to know that statements of opinion are not actionable as libel, "he said, she said" reporting is not a constitutional mandate or that a party who refuses to respond to your requests for information has no right to muzzle you by refusing to cooperate.

And yes, I'm referring to that same First Amendment that McCaw was quoted as praising and saying "it was a great day for" a couple of weeks ago when a federal court judge was citing it as a reason not to reinstate the reporters she had illegally fired.

Fortunately, the justices of the California Court of Appeal do know these things and they were able to shut down McCaw and her band of runaway lawyers before they could hijack the justice system and hold Paterno hostage in what figured to be expensive and interminable litigation.

In the end, there was nothing that McCaw could point to in Paterno's American Journalism Review article that was a demonstrably false statement of fact. McCaw's insistence that Paterno was obligated to include additional facts or explanation, which McCaw notably refused to provide when asked by Paterno, was a contention that the Court ultimately recognized was absurd.

Good discussions of the ruling and its ramifications can be found at Blogabarbara and at Witness L.A.

* * *

Perhaps the only people happier than Paterno to hear that at least one court is willing to slow Wendy down are the producers of Citizen McCaw, the documentary film about the News-Press melt down and its aftermath.

In early May of this year they received the first of two "cease and desist" letters from Barry Cappello, one of McCaw's attorneys, threatening to sue them if they did not stop showing the documentary which Cappello claims contains falsehoods about McCaw.

Their attorneys, John Keker of the firm of Keker & Van Nest in San Francisco and David Greene of The First Amendment Project in Oakland have sent Cappello a written response on their behalf.

So, do the producers of the film plan on ceasing and desisting?

Well, they did say this in a written statement they provided me:

We are now actively moving forward with plans to show Citizen McCaw again, several times in local theaters in October, after which we will release the film to television. We will have no further comment on legal matters at this time.

Sounds like a no to me.

After those additional showings in October, expect to be seeing "Citizen McCaw" locally on the Santa Barbara Channels, Channel 21.

* * *

Last Friday, I asked here if anyone knew what the term "nut graf" meant. Turns out it's the paragraph in an article that explains, in a nutshell, what the story is about. It is usually placed near the beginning of the story and explains why the story is important.

Thanks to all of you who wrote in to educate me.

* * *

Also on Friday I commented on the lack of new news content on the "News-Press" TV site.

Dale Ernest, the videographer who is in charge of News-Press TV, wrote in with the following response.

I see that you noticed we haven't been keeping up with local news on News-Press TV as much as we should be. The reason is two-fold. For the last three weeks I have been working almost exclusively on creating content for the "805 Alive" channel that you see on the new and improved website. Also, on Monday I went into surgery to have my gall-bladder removed, and I am still recovering from that frightful experience.

Frightful as it may have been, I'm sure that gall bladder procedure was no worse than being called onto the carpet in Wendy McCaw's office.

* * *

If you're a political news junkie like I am, I'm sure that you thought of NBC's Tim Russert as a frequent and welcome visitor into your home.

His sudden and untimely death at age 58 was shocking and sad and his own cable network, MSNBC, gave it the kind of wall-to-wall coverage this past weekend that is usually reserved for the death of a President.

One local who actually knew Russert is former Washington Post journalist and Reagan biographer Lou Cannon, who related the following:

I knew Tim for more than 25 years, from the days he worked for Sen. Moynihan. He could sometimes be full of himself, but he was impossible not to like. His enthusiasm for people--and for life--was infectious. And his jolly demeanor somewhat concealed his fine mind. Alone among his fellow television journalists, Russert was a lawyer and one can see the value of that training in the lawyer-like way he prepared his questions. He also worked hard, and hard work almost always pays dividends. He'll be missed.

So I adjourn today in memory of Tim Russert.