Thursday, November 13, 2008

Arthur Takes To the Airwaves! (Well, Sort Of)

Santa Barbara's Best Kept Man was on TV last night being interviewed on The Ernie Salomon Show.

If anything, the interview reinforced the fact that von Weisenberger, the co-publisher of his girlfriend Wendy McCaw's newspaper, the Santa Barbara News-Press, is careful to pick and choose where he shows up to answer questions about the turmoil of the past two years that has roiled the paper.

There was plenty of time for questions on the show, which was broadcast live at 8 pm last night on Channel 17. It ran for a full hour and without any commercials. But what was missing was any willingness on the part of host Ernie Salomon to challenge von Wiesenberger anytime he would start blowing smoke in the course of giving an answer.

In other words, Salomon wasn't exactly the late Tim Russert on Meet the Press as he sat across the table from his interview subject. In fact, I'd say the Santa Barbara Middle School Teen Press was tougher on von Wiesenberger than Salomon was.

For example, in going over the history of the News-Press meltdown, Salomon asked Arthur why McCaw killed the story on editorial page editor Travis Armstrong being sentenced for drunk driving.

Arthur responded that the newsroom was at war with the editorial side of the paper and was pushing to run the article solely out of vengeance directed at Armstrong. He claimed that the paper had never reported drunk driving incidents.

Never reported drunk driving? Hardly. In May of 2006 the paper reported the no contest plea of Carpinteria City Councilman Joe Armendariz to a charge of drunk driving. The paper also reported Armendariz's original arrest in April of 2006.

I would argue that Armstrong, by virtue of his position as the editorial writer and op-ed page columnist, was every bit as prominent as Armendariz and his sentencing was a matter of public interest. Salomon never required von Wiesenberger to explain this double standard.

Another instance where von Wiesenberger got off way too easy was his response to a phone-in question from Hap Freund, the Executive Director of Santa Barbara Channels -the very outlet that Salomon's program appears on- as to why Channel 17 as well as its sister channel, Channel 21, have not been listed for some time in the News-Press TV Week or in the new TV listings which now appear in the Friday Scene Magazine.

Arthur tried to laugh the matter off and claimed that Scene Magazine was an "advertising" product as opposed to an editorial product and that if Santa Barbara Channels bought ads in the magazine, they might get listed in the TV program guide.

Salomon either wasn't aware of the history or didn't bother to point it out, but the fact is that Channels 17 and 21 were de-listed not long after Santa Barbara Channels replayed the video of the Town Hall Forum where recently departed editor Jerry Roberts addressed the community on the events that led up to his resignation. Santa Barbara Channels soon found itself singled out by Armstrong as being one of the paper's "enemies" and it wasn't long after that that the paper stopped listing its programming.

Another caller who identified herself as "Yvonne" brought up the paper's reporting of accusations it made against Roberts and said that she thought the paper's handling of it was "reprehensible." von Wiesenberger said that they "stood by the story" claiming that it was something that they "had to report."

Or did they stand by the story? After Robert's attorneys made a retraction demand they ran a "clarification" three weeks later. Salomon didn't bother to ask why, if they "had to report it," Roberts wasn't contacted and given a chance to comment on the story or how the story got placed into the paper without a by-line after the layout people had been sent home for the evening. (And I should hasten to point out, nothing has ever come of those charges.)

Also on the program was Don Katich, the paper's recently appointed Director of News Operations. When Katich pointed to recent layoffs at the L.A. Times and Ventura County Star and seemed to indicate that the News-Press hadn't found it necessary to layoff employees in a similar fashion, once again Salomon failed to point out that the News-Press had already had it's own "May Day massacre" where a dozen or so employees were let go.

It was worth noting that in none of the phone calls that were taken during the course of the program did any caller ever say, "you guys are doing a great job at the News-Press!"

Towards the end of the interview, von Wiesenberger claimed the Teamsters were engaging in an illegal secondary boycott directed at News-Press advertisers such as "Hollister & Bailey." Hollister? and Bailey? I'm sure that made the good folks as Holser & Bailey feel good about where they're spending their advertising dollar.

The Ernie Salomon show will repeat on Sunday and 2 pm and Tuesday at 8:30 am on Channel 17.