Monday, March 07, 2011

Happy Anniversary to Citizen McCaw

I find it a little hard to believe but today is the third anniversary of the premiere showing of Citizen McCaw, the documentary that is the definitive chronicle of the controversy that surrounded, and still surrounds, the Santa Barbara News-Press under its owner, one-time billionaire Wendy McCaw.

The Producers of Citizen McCaw (l to r) Chuck Minsky, Rod Lathim, Sam Tyler, Peter Seaman, and Brent Sumner

The LA Times described the documentary by observing:
Were it a reality show, the blurb might read something like: A reclusive and litigious animal rights-crusading blond billionaire libertarian divorcee with no journalism experience buys daily newspaper in upscale beach town and insists on doing things her way or the highway. Complications ensue.

The San Francisco Chronicle was even more to the point, asserting that it was, "the scariest film involving journalists since 'Zodiac.'"

In some ways that initial showing on Friday March 7, 2008 was like a Hollywood premiere. All that was missing was the red carpet. It seemed like half the town was there (Edhat's photo gallery from premiere night can still be viewed) with the 2,200 seat Arlington Theater being sold out days before the screening. Not a bad feat considering that tickets were $15 apiece and that the movie wasn't advertised in Santa Barbara's largest daily newspaper.

I was in the audience for that premiere and had the privilege of moderating the Q&A session that followed with director Sam Tyler, and his co-producers Peter Seaman, Chuck Minsky, Rod Lathim and cinematographer/editor Brent Sumner.

At the conclusion of the film, all of the former journalists and employees of the News-Press who were in attendance took the stage to a standing ovation from the audience.

Of course the town had taken sides in the News-Press controversy long-before Citizen McCaw debuted, but after it was shown there was little doubt about whose side most people were on.

McCaw evidently didn't like the way she was portrayed in the film. In the months following the premiere the producers received no less than 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 claimed contained falsehoods about McCaw.

Undaunted, the film had another round of local theatrical showings in the fall of 2008 and has been shown numerous times on the Santa Barbara Channels. Cappello never made good on his threat to take the producers to court.

If you haven't seen Citizen McCaw try going to the Santa Barbara Public Library where you can check out one of the five copies of the DVD that the producers donated. Or, you can still purchase a copy of the DVD from the Citizen McCaw website.

The most disappointing thing about this anniversary is how little has changed on the legal front since the spring of 2008. Although in the last week of 2007 an administrative law judge ruled that the News-Press had unlawfully terminated eight of its reporters in retaliation for exercising their union rights under the National Labor Relations Act and ordered them to be reinstated, McCaw appealed that decision and that appeal is still awaiting final determination by the National Labor Relations Board.

Funny, it only took a little over and year-and-a-half to bring Citizen McCaw to the screen. Those fired reporters have been waiting over three years for the final word on their fate and it's still nowhere in sight.

Cappello tells people to "cease and desist." If someone could only tell the NLRB to "sing or get off the stage."

From the Archives

Simply McCawsome!

Movie? What Movie?

Is Citizen McCaw a Box Office Champ?
© 2011 by Craig Smith and