On Monday, the Associated Press reported that the publishers of the Santa Barbara News-Press had filed a lawsuit against Susan Paterno, a writer for the American Journalism Review. Paterno’s article, which appears in the December/January issue of AJR, “recounts events at the troubled newspaper just before and after a group of editors resigned in protest last July, claiming owner Wendy McCaw had meddled in newsroom decisions,” according to Joe Strupp of E&P.


“The 17-page complaint recounts major, and some minor, episodes, challenging facts and motivation, right down to whether McCaw’s boyfriend has ever referred to himself as a ‘Baron,’” Strupp writes. “It charges that AJR ‘purports to be an academic journal evaluating news reporting by others on an objective basis. Despite this lofty pretension, nothing could be further from the truth in this instance.’”


It has also been reported that business owners in Santa Barbara have been warned by McCaw’s attorney to remove popular signs from their windows that read, “McCaw Obey The Law.”


Today, as the story continues to circulate, bloggers are lashing out against the lawsuit.


“Of course, we are not surprised at this legal lob, for it’s just the latest in a seemingly endless string of lawsuits,” writes Matt Kettman at the Santa Barbara Media Blog. “What is surprising, however, is that an individual reporter is being attacked. That’s plain stinky for a journalistic institution to even consider, entirely unfair in a country that prides itself on free speech, and clearly a means to inhibit free speech and intimidate other reporters who might be working on the story. It’s likely an attempt to scare off the person who’s supposedly doing a documentary on the News-Press meltdown and anyone else who might be completing pieces, whether on paper, online, on video, or on radio.”


Ron Larson, a native Santa Barbarian guest-blogging on Dvorak Uncensored, claims to have the scoop on McCaw:


“Wendy McCaw is the ex-wife of Craig McCaw, the multi-millionaire founder of what is now Cingular. She took her divorce money and bought a local newspaper, the Santa Barbara News-Press, from the New York Times. Recently the SBNP has been involved in a nasty dispute when a bunch of respected senior editors and writers quit over Wendy’s meddling in the newsroom on what does and doesn’t get reported. In particular, a story about Rob Lowe trying to build himself a mega-mansion that she was determined to suppress (she is a friend of Rob Lowe). She then stuck her boyfriend in the paper as senior editor, even though he has no experience and he decided to kill stories about his own drunk-driving arrest. Things are so bad [at] the paper now that the employees are attempting to unionize, which Wendy is against. This incident has to do with the rights of employees to enter into collective bargaining.”


What most upset those who commented on the lawsuit, though, is the apparent lack of regard for the First Amendment on the part of the publishers of the News-Press.


“So Wendy McCaw has decided there’s an ‘I’ in the First Amendment, and she spells the whole thing Fir$t Amendment, deciding it only applies to her and her money,” writes George at I’m Not One to Blog. “Can we even count all the ways she’s tried to deny all the elements of the essential first part of the Bill of Rights? She’s told her employees they can’t speak and can’t assemble, either to deliver a letter or join a union. She’s insisted businesses can’t speak, at least not put signs in their windows about her. (My suggestion for the new poster: ‘Hey Wendy! It’s Your Morals that Are Bendy.’)”


Mostly though, bloggers feel that McCaw has gone a bit overboard.


“Ms. McCaw feels the first Amendment only applies to her,” writes the Florida Masochist. “She’s worried about ‘hatred, contempt and ridicule’ from one sign in a barber shop … This isn’t about a sign, but a rich bully who tries to intimidate or threaten anyone who displeases or threatens her. Will people like this ever learn? McCaw has money but not much brainpower apparently. Her suits, threatened or filed, are drawing Ms. McCaw much more publicity for her bully tactics than if she had just ignored them.”

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Mark Boyer was a CJR intern.