Monday, March 02, 2009

"The View" It Wasn't

Despite it being nearly a full year after its premiere at the Arlington Theater, the cable TV debut of Citizen McCaw yesterday, still proved to be a hard act to follow.

The unenviable role of following the showing of the film on Channel 21 went to "Citizen McCaw: Behind the Film" (CMcCBTF) a 30 minute discussion between News-Press attorney Barry Cappello and Sam Tyler, the director of Citizen McCaw and moderated by retired SBCC President Peter MacDougall.

To a viewer who had just been treated to the adeptly edited Citizen McCaw in all of its digital glory complete with a musical soundtrack, it was hard for CMcCBTF to not come off looking like another one of those dry public access shows.

That being said, it provided a rare opportunity for a face-to-face debate by representatives of the two points of view in the News-Press controversy.

In the past it's been hard to get an authorized representative of the News-Press to appear in any forum with someone who opposes or questions the direction that Wendy McCaw has taken the paper in. So CMcCBTF was a first in that regard.

Tyler defended the film as being an accurate representation of what has gone on in the community in the last two years with the News-Press. He pointed to the lack of coverage of local issues and news in the paper and condemned McCaw's use of her editorial pages to attack people without giving them a chance to respond.

"We stand by this film completely." Tyler told Cappello and the viewers. "The Santa Barbara News-Press is nowhere near the newspaper it used to be."

In response, Cappello repeated the oft-repeated News-Press mantra of how the rights of freedom of the press granted by the First Amendment belong to the owner of the paper and to the owner of the paper only, and that what the journalists had wanted to do at the News-Press was to control the news. He went on to claim that Wendy wants local news and asserted that the economics of the paper are far better than they were when Jerry Roberts ran the newsroom.

"Mrs. McCaw has the right to do what she wants, she's protecting her investment, and is fighting a very aggressive union," said Cappello.

For my money, the most significant issue raised in the discussion occurred when Tyler asked Cappello about a letter Cappello wrote to the Santa Barbara Lawyer's Alliance asking whether they would stand behind Roberts "no matter what?" and whether the "no matter what" meant that he knew the article attempting to link Roberts to child pornography found on a News-Press computer, one that the paper acquired from a seller of used computers, was about to be published.

Cappello denied that he knew in advance about the story or that he vets stories for the paper.

He said the "no matter what" was a reference to Roberts' violation of his confidentiality agreement with the News-Press.

That assertion ultimately lead to the inclusion of a taped rebuttal to Cappello being tacked onto the end of the program. The rebuttal was delivered by Roberts' attorney Andrine Smith who refuted Cappello's assertion that Roberts violated the confidentiality provision of his contract. She pointed out that an arbitrator had found that the News-Press failed to establish its claims in that regard despite spending two years and an untold fortune trying.

When the time clock finally ran out on the program, Tyler extended his hand to Cappello and the two shook hands.

All in all, while the program may not have made for great TV it was a nice lesson in civility.

Hopefully, Wendy and her editorial page editor Travis Armstrong were watching. And hopefully they learned something.
© 2009 by Craig Smith and