Opinion: Labelling irresponsible journalism for what it is
July 3, 2007 07:00 AM
Editor's note: The Los Angeles Times recently refused to publish, in its print or online editions, a commentary by News-Press owner Wendy McCaw. The opinion piece responds to two lengthy commentaries by Lou Cannon and former News-Press editor Jerry Roberts that the Times published online.
Below is the full version of Mrs. McCaw's commentary. A shorter version was published in today's News-Press.
Earlier, the Times published in its print edition another commentary by Mr. Cannon attacking the News-Press. The Times refused to publish Mrs. McCaw's response to Mr. Cannon's accusations in its print edition. Times editors finally put it on the Times Web site, but only after the News-Press published the commentary along with a note about that newspaper's initial refusal.
Dear Mr. Cannon,
The world has passed you by. Young people today no longer wear watches, no longer read newspapers, no longer watch TV news. They communicate by text messaging and in MY SPACE. They distrust the mainstream media, in large part because they distrust the decrepit ideas asserted by the old generation who claim to be "experts" such as yourself. You exemplify the basis for this distrust with your reference to "various inquiries" allegedly finding that we committed some journalistic sin.
This is the essence of irresponsible journalism and at the core of your deserved loss of reputation. Instead of relying on purposely uninformed bloggers and the biased "journalists" they support who are attempting to insert the Teamsters Union into Santa Barbara's mainstream newspaper for supposed facts, why not roll up your sleeves and do some real investigative work? I challenge you to state a single legitimate agency "inquiry" that has found we violated a journalistic standard. None exists. It is simply more evidence why certain journalists today have committed a grave disservice to the public they claim to serve.
For decades, reporters who had no ownership interest in the product they produced were allowed to say whatever they wanted. They ran the newspapers even though they didn't own the newspapers, with no heed paid to the bottom line. While these journalists claimed as "theirs" the newspapers by which they merely were employed, they acted in total disregard for whether the paper was profitable enough to ensure it would survive into the next year, much less the onslaught of the cataclysm of the Internet. The end result is that countless newspapers today face massive declines in circulation if not outright collapse. The L.A. Times is laying off hundreds as is the San Francisco Chronicle. Circulation is down all over the country. The time has come for the owners of these papers to step in and see to it that they are run in a proper business fashion.
The journalists, such as you, Mr. Cannon, who had nothing at stake but still exercised dominion and control for so many years over business entities they never owned, turned out to be the worst of stewards of the public's need for a long-term journalistic presence.
I purchased this paper because I believe in it as an institution and as a business to earn money. It is my capital that needs to be protected and preserved, and no employee of mine has the right to tell me to "butt out" of my own business. Clearly, we have completely divergent views on the very basic right to run one's own business in a manner that ensures the survival of that business. In your hypothetical world, employees with thread-bare allegiance to the business are able to act any way they want, including publishing "news" stories from a single point of view, regardless of the impact on the bottom-line profitability of the business. Not a single business owner in the country would agree with your approach to running a business.
You, Mr. Cannon, own no newspaper and never have. You and your brethren chose to malign me with the same slights mouthed by the Teamsters Union in its campaign of distortions and personal invective. You compare your earned "reputation" with a dig at the fact that I am a female business owner. You do so by suggesting that you earned your reputation, while I gained my wealth through a legal settlement or inheritance, neither of which is true or relevant. The fact that I and my former husband started and successfully grew the first major cellular network in the country and sold it to AT&T is something I am quite proud of. Every woman who works with her husband, and/or supports the family's business success, must cringe at your chauvinist comments.
You assert you are beholden to no union, yet your words mimic the antics of a Union with the gravest history of corruption in its campaign against the News-Press and me as its owner. Let's face it, Mr. Cannon, you are not only beholden to this Union but you are its foil, its tool in its campaign to destroy the News-Press simply because I own it.
When I bought the Santa Barbara News-Press, it was not as a plaything, but an investment in my future and that of the City I love. I was determined to keep a local paper in Santa Barbara, and still am committed to that end. When I first purchased the News-Press seven years ago, I had no idea the depths of bias that existed in the stories written. When we commissioned a study, long before the Teamsters Union was involved, we were concerned that the vast majority of our readers believed your saintly reporters were writing biased articles. We decided then that we needed to turn the News-Press into a newspaper that was unbiased, ethical, accurate and accountable to the owner. Former employees in the newsroom who didn't share that vision have left. We now are building a better paper, one that will better serve our community and hopefully begin a return on our investment. Mr. Cannon, what business did you ever run where your employees smeared you and sought to denigrate and destroy its product? Have you ever regularly issued paychecks to hundreds of employees? I make sure our almost two hundred employees, most of whom love their job at the News-Press, continue to work and deliver this newspaper to the citizens of Santa Barbara. To this I am committed, all the while that you continue in the leisure of your retirement.
Your reputation, which you so revere, is not just something you earned in the past, it is something you must continue to earn. Your unbridled support of the Teamster antics, your failure to check facts, your chauvinism, your support for those who question why we are so concerned with child pornography in our workplace, does not polish but rather tarnishes your reputation. Your staunch refusal to acknowledge that an owner of any business has both the duty and the right to make decisions for the financial survival of that business only emphasizes this downward spiral of your credibility.
Today the hue and cry of "journalistic ethics" by your journalist elite, rather than being the noble words you assert, instead have become little more than the chant of an ancient priesthood long discarded by their former flock, our readers. Newspaper owners now realize these elitists were simply trying to preserve their caste which provided them with the sinecure of full employment without responsibility. The reading public knows this, as exemplified by the recent PBS Frontline documentary referenced in my prior letter. The PBS series evidences the distrust the public has today for your formerly sacred "journalists." It does not trust them for the very reason I deemed it necessary to take action to ensure that the news was reported fairly and accurately: Your brand of reporters write what they want, when they want. That is not good journalism. That is not in keeping with the tenants of fairness and integrity. Simply put, that is the reason changes were needed at the News-Press.
Would you like just one example of what my former reporters can and do write about when given unfettered freedom to write what they want when they want? We have a freebie tabloid here in Santa Barbara. It has delusions of journalistic grandeur and has hired several of our former reporters. One of those reporters just wrote a dandy column about plastic surgery on vaginas for cosmetic purposes only. This may have happened in my paper had you or your colleague Mr. Roberts been the news editor, but not on my watch. It is the antithesis of good journalism; it is titillating pap properly in the weekly tabloid along side the other adult papers littering our news racks today.
On the issue of who supports children, you demonstrate your complete lack of knowledge about who I am and what I have done for the causes of the betterment of children. You also premise your condemnation of child pornography on a faulty base. First, the fact that you have children does nothing to make you "much more concerned" about child pornography than I am.
You do not know me, Mr. Cannon, and your assumptions about me and my actions are irresponsible and inaccurate. Given that most people have children at some point in their lives, I suspect it is likely that most child pornographers themselves have children. Having children therefore does not alone prove you support the fight against child pornography, nor does it show your support for children's causes. Deeds do that. I and my charitable foundation are proud of our support in both time and money for numerous children's causes for years, including Christmas Unity, The Santa Barbara Scholarship Foundation, Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation, CASA and The Unity Shop. I frankly don't recall seeing you support these causes or any other sir. What deeds do you have to tell us about? It pains me greatly to know that child pornography exists, and becomes a very personal evil to me since it is present on a computer belonging to our company.
You ask why my company tried to retrieve the computer from the police? Because the police had it for nearly seven months and did virtually nothing to investigate who placed the images on the computer. Apparently, the police did not deem child pornography to be of sufficient concern to warrant their immediate attention. Indeed, attorneys employed by my company had to enlist the assistance of the District Attorney's office to press the police to complete its investigation.
We subsequently learned that the investigation probably failed to employ the appropriate technology, and that it potentially would be possible to determine precisely when and perhaps whom placed these vile images on the computer. This information would be critical to us and Mr. Roberts as well. The story is about getting to the bottom of who the culprit is; Mr. Roberts has asserted he had nothing to do with the images, and we have published in detail those assertions without any belief stated otherwise. It is not a smear by anyone; it is a story that the City kept our property and refused to return it to us, that it even denied us access to it so we could have outside experts examine our computer to attempt to determine if someone in our company was responsible. As someone who is opposed to child pornography, it is odd that you would find that "strange behavior."
What is strange is the behavior of certain journalists who claim the "case is closed" even before the FBI finishes its investigation. It is such a blatant cover-up that even you, Mr. Cannon, have to blanch at the attempts by local journalists to spin the story against this newspaper and to trivialize it as "kiddie porn" as the weekly tabloid does. At the News-Press we will shine the light of a vigilant media on the evils of child pornography and those who traffic in it. If it turns out to be one of our "journalists" so be it; if not, all the better. Now that the FBI is conducting the thorough and appropriate technical investigation that the police should have conducted originally, my company no longer is attempting to retrieve the computer hard drive. Then again, had you asked me, I could have told you this before you questioned my motivation.
Finally, I find it ironic that you go out of your way to point out that News-Press subscriptions are down, in percentage terms, more than any other paper in the region. A good journalist doing his job would also quickly point out that the News-Press is the only paper in the region whose employees openly engaged in disloyal conduct by urging readers to cancel their subscriptions and soliciting our advertisers to drop their business from our paper. These acts were done to harm and even destroy the thing they and you claim to "love." What sickness pervades you and your Teamster friends to destroy something you love? Do you think you get my attention by harming my company and its currently working loyal employees? Disloyal acts by employees, such as hanging banners over the freeway urging citizens to cancel their subscriptions, do not deserve commendation as the conduct of "ethical" journalists.
It requires the condemnation of every employer and employee who wants a good company to work for to remain successful.
Now I have a question for you and all those like you who gloat at seeing the Union tactics harm our paper, Mr. Cannon: Who and what is it that you support? Reporters and editors who have done everything in their power to destroy the local newspaper that they claim to love by urging readers to cancel their subscriptions? People who brought the Teamsters Union, with its history of corruption, into our small town? Or is it that you love your ancient rejected creed that "journalists" can do no wrong because somehow they are mysteriously as sacrosanct as you?
Rather than joining the cacophony of the shouts of the journalistic elite, Mr. Cannon, why don't you do a real journalistic service to the community: Investigate the facts, present them in an evenhanded manner, and leave any conclusions for the public to reach on its own. That would be in keeping with the ethical standards of journalism that you espouse but fail to practice. That would start to un-tarnish your reputation.