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Santa Barbara Politics, Media & Culture

Friday, August 04, 2006

Armstrong in Denial on Bias/Ethics

A common theme over the last few weeks in our comments is that the News-Press Mess will, as one comment stated, "get uglier, much uglier". This kind of prediction was not to hard to imagine considering the course of events over the last few years that Travis "Wrong Way" Armstrong has been at the helm.

His first written piece since all of this broke out attacks so many people I had to use more than two sets of hands to count the number of organizations and people that he maligns as biased and disingenuous. Some 21 people, organizations news outlets have it all wrong and have been jumping all over the News-Press while they are down. I say it is just rewards for how Travis has viciously attacked so many respected public officials and members of this community. Karma.

If a county supervisor's actions had led to 10 plus key county employees resigning -- would there not be a call for impeachment? Really the best thing her man at De la Guerra could do is write a 'me culpa', say a few thousand hail marys and start contributing positively to the community dialogue -- if that happened, I'd be one of the first admit it. Have your opinion -- but let others have it too.

59 Comments:

Anonymous Among the TRAVIS 21 said...

We knew a hit would be forthcoming.........yet the buckshot that tries to pass as Opinion today really will serve more as a stunning case study for those observers new to the News-Press/Armstrong psychosis.

I'm sure there are more people this morning complaining that they DID NOT make Travis's hit list than anything else.

8/04/2006 7:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can you link to the piece you are talking about?

8/04/2006 7:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Travis feels free to write in a tone and manner contrary to the NP letters-to-the editor policy:

"...We do not print submissions that make personal attacks, lack a civil tone, allege illegal wrongdoing or involve consumer complaints. "

On its face, Travis's editorial is everything that the NP opposes in its letters policy. The name calling, accusations based on "creative" connecting of the dots, and offensive characterizations are worthy of neither good news reporting nor good editorial writing, which Travis seems to continue to confuse.

Travis also failed to acknowledge publicly the NP violation of journalistic ethics, by the NP having Travis serving as both editor of the opinion page while serving as editor of the news.

But if you look at today's paper, Travis is named as only the editorial editor, a tacit admission that his doing both was a rather gross violation of fundamental journalistic ethics.

His attempt to blame all this on others I think is sincere, but it is possible to be both sincere and delusional at the same time.

Let's hope Wendy or the PR people can calm Travis down as he hoses down this conflagration with his own particular brand of high test gasoline.

8/04/2006 8:31 AM  
Anonymous Philosophe said...

Wow! Mr. Armstrong appears to be attributing all of the recent problems at the News-Press to a vast conspiracy. He should take to heart Napolean's admonition to "never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by incompetence." But then that would require a bit of uncomfortable mirror gazing. The most interesting part of his essay to me is that the News-Press has decided to take on the LA Times, mano-a-mano, as it were. Mr. Armstrong seems to have forgotten H.L. Mencken's warning about picking fights with people who buy ink by the barrel. Granted Armstrong himself has access to prodigious (prodigal?) barrels of ink; but it is a mere trickle compared to the reservoir of ink controlled by the LA Times.

8/04/2006 8:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is the article for those who no longer subscribe and cannot read it online:

Opinion: A cabal aims to silence us while rival media exploit

August 4, 2006 7:54 AM

Their ploy didn't work. High-density development interests, Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum, county Supervisor Susan Rose and an outfit known as "SBCANT" tried mightily over the last month to silence the independent voices on these pages.

It appears in their view, if they don't like your opinion, one course is to try to shut down the locally owned free press and personally attack those who dare to attempt to hold government officials accountable for their policy decisions. This cabal latched onto the resignations of some News-Press editors as a pretext to try to stifle community debate.

Quite a legacy, eh?

And it sure seems as if the News-Press' competitors for your time and the paper's advertising dollars -- KEYT, the Clear Channel stations, the Chicago-owned Los Angeles Times and a local freebie -- have done their best to inflame.

Along the way, the seemingly erratic -- and biased? -- programming decisions by the management of cable access Channel 17 have gotten into the mix of News-Press bashing. County Supervisor Brooks Firestone has been right in the past in general terms to question the appropriateness of a home for this operation on county property. (More on this another day.)

Perhaps most disheartening has been the L.A. Times because of what appears in my personal view to be journalistic ethical questions involving the newspaper's coverage. The Times has set up a subscription booth across De la Guerra Plaza from the News-Press building.

In Times reporter James Rainey's interview with me while I temporarily served as acting publisher in July, I asked him if the newspaper's assistant managing editor for Page 1, John Arthur, had a hand in one of Mr. Rainey's stories on the News-Press resignations. The impression I got from Mr. Rainey's dancing around the question was yes. Mr. Arthur, before this story appeared, told one of the departing editors in an e-mail to "hang in there! Best, John."

How's that for journalistic detachment?

Another Times reporter who has written about the resignations is Catherine Saillant. She works in the smallish Ventura bureau alongside Steven Chawkins, husband of former News-Press metro editor Jane Hulse Chawkins. (Mr. Chawkins has a history of chasing News-Press stories. Yesterday, he wrote about how a veterans group is backing away from the proposal to turn Santa Rosa Island into a private hunting ground for retired soldiers. The News-Press had the story on Page 1 last Friday.)

There's an obligation for reporters who parachute into Santa Barbara to do some actual background reporting on those possibly biased sources who are spoonfeeding them quotes.

Take a story by Mr. Rainey and Ms. Saillant that featured attorney Steve Amerikaner as one impartial civic voice. A simple search in the News-Press electronic archives would have revealed that these editorial pages have taken on the developer-backed Coastal Housing Partnership and its new offshoot, the Coastal Housing Coalition. Mr. Amerikaner is a Coastal Housing leader -- a group that has stonewalled my requests for more information on its funding and operations.

My columns have examined this group's financial backing and how possibly the Coalition/Partnership has used developer or county government money to help pay consultant Bud Laurent. Amazingly, Mr. Laurent appears to lobby the county supervisors on growth policies on behalf of an advocacy arm of Coastal Housing -- an advocacy arm that county tax dollars helped start. How's that for bad government?

One editorial concern is that such groups want to pack in development of subsidized homes to sell to well-paid households at the expense of building below-market apartments for working-poor families. Their style of development also comes at the expense of the environment, open space, agricultural land and neighborhood character.

Oh yes, and Mr. Amerikaner is or has been an attorney for Rep. Lois Capps. We've tried to hold the congresswoman responsible for her weak environmentalism and, more recently, for her unprecedented lavishing of dollars from her federal campaign war chest to influence a local election and rescue supervisorial candidate Janet Wolf's failing campaign. (Recall that we unearthed that Ms. Wolf's campaign wrongly used county property to distribute political lawn signs.)

Perhaps being less the forthcoming, the Capps D.C. office says of Mr. Amerikaner: "Mr. Amerikaner and his firm have handled some legal issues relating to Congresswoman Capps' campaign. Her personal legal matters are private."

The Times story also featured Mickey Flacks, an activist with deep connections to Supervisor Rose, Rose ally Wolf and the Santa Barbara County Action Network, or SBCANT. The story failed to mention these connections.

I've taken issue with Mrs. Flacks on several matters, including her criticism of certain political involvement by the Chumash people, as reported in UCSB Professor Eve Darian-Smith's 2004 book on the tribe.

The professor wrote in one passage: "As Mickey Flacks, a prominent Democratic Party affiliate in the Santa Barbara community, revealed to me excitedly on the phone, 'The Indians have contributed $30,000 already to the recall effort (against Gail Marshall). They're players in all of this you know . . .' My response is why is it so amazing that Native Americans are significant political players, and moreover, why shouldn't they be?"

The professor is right.

SBCANT seems to have certain problems with the sovereignty and self-determination of Indian tribes, in light of its positions regarding the Santa Ynez Chumash. And its new executive director, Mary O'Gorman, while she was working for the city of Beverly Hills awhile back, wrote pointing a finger at me because of my take on former recall target and Chumash enemy Marshall. Ms. O'Gorman seemed possibly unnerved that I might have a variety of views of tribal casinos and that in columns for the News-Press and my last employer, the San Jose Mercury News, I spoke about them openly as a member of a federal recognized Indian tribe in Minnesota.

Funny how last week the activists behind SBCANT's slanted forum on the News-Press -- in which the group didn't invite News-Press management -- didn't mention how these pages have tried to be a watchdog over this self-promoting organization and its friends. The rival media ignored it too.

Similarly, there was no mention earlier that the organizer of a political rally in the plaza meant to slam the paper's management -- David Pritchett -- is with SBCAN and has worked closely with Ms. Rose. In a further ethical conflict, his wife, Cathy Murillo, has earned her livelihood working for the weekly freebie and a radio station.

The silence on the bias of all these folks says a lot about the disingenuousness of their tactics.

Travis Armstrong is the editorial page editor of the News-Press and host of a weekly public affairs radio program on AM 1290.

8/04/2006 9:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Travis's opinion today was pretty funny..a vast left-wing conspiracy trying to silence the NewsPress..and nobody invited him to the forum..how can anyone take this guy seriously??

8/04/2006 9:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First, for all of those of us who no longer take the NP, here is the editorial:

Travis Armstrong
August 4, 2006 12:00 AM

Their ploy didn't work. High-density development interests, Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum, county Supervisor Susan Rose and an outfit known as "SBCANT" tried mightily over the last month to silence the independent voices on these pages.

It appears in their view, if they don't like your opinion, one course is to try to shut down the locally owned free press and personally attack those who dare to attempt to hold government officials accountable for their policy decisions. This cabal latched onto the resignations of some News-Press editors as a pretext to try to stifle community debate.

Quite a legacy, eh?

And it sure seems as if the News-Press' competitors for your time and the paper's advertising dollars -- KEYT, the Clear Channel stations, the Chicago-owned Los Angeles Times and a local freebie -- have done their best to inflame.

Along the way, the seemingly erratic -- and biased? -- programming decisions by the management of cable access Channel 17 have gotten into the mix of News-Press bashing. County Supervisor Brooks Firestone has been right in the past in general terms to question the appropriateness of a home for this operation on county property. (More on this another day.)

Perhaps most disheartening has been the L.A. Times because of what appears in my personal view to be journalistic ethical questions involving the newspaper's coverage. The Times has set up a subscription booth across De la Guerra Plaza from the News-Press building.

In Times reporter James Rainey's interview with me while I temporarily served as acting publisher in July, I asked him if the newspaper's assistant managing editor for Page 1, John Arthur, had a hand in one of Mr. Rainey's stories on the News-Press resignations. The impression I got from Mr. Rainey's dancing around the question was yes. Mr. Arthur, before this story appeared, told one of the departing editors in an e-mail to "hang in there! Best, John."

How's that for journalistic detachment?

Another Times reporter who has written about the resignations is Catherine Saillant. She works in the smallish Ventura bureau alongside StevenChawkins, husband of former News-Press metro editor Jane Hulse Chawkins. (Mr. Chawkins has a history of chasing News-Press stories. Yesterday, he wrote about how a veterans group is backing away from the proposal to turn Santa Rosa Island into a private hunting ground for retired soldiers. The News-Press had the story on Page 1 last Friday.)

There's an obligation for reporters who parachute into Santa Barbara to do some actual background reporting on those possibly biased sources who are spoonfeeding them quotes.

Take a story by Mr. Rainey and Ms. Saillant that featured attorney Steve Amerikaner as one impartial civic voice. A simple search in the News-Press electronic archives would have revealed that these editorial pages have taken on the developer-backed Coastal Housing Partnership and its new offshoot, the Coastal Housing Coalition. Mr. Amerikaner is a Coastal Housing leader -- a group that has stonewalled my requests for more information on its funding and operations.

My columns have examined this group's financial backing and how possibly the Coalition/Partnership has used developer or county government money to help pay consultant Bud Laurent. Amazingly, Mr. Laurent appears to lobby the county supervisors on growth policies on behalf of an advocacy arm of Coastal Housing -- an advocacy arm that county tax dollars helped start. How's that for bad government?

One editorial concern is that such groups want to pack in development of subsidized homes to sell to well-paid households at the expense of building below-market apartments for working-poor families. Their style of development also comes at the expense of the environment, open space, agricultural land and neighborhood character
Oh yes, and Mr. Amerikaner is or has been an attorney for Rep. Lois Capps. We've tried to hold the congresswoman responsible for her weak environmentalism and, more recently, for her unprecedented lavishing of dollars from her federal campaign war chest to influence a local election and rescue supervisorial candidate Janet Wolf's failing campaign. (Recall that we unearthed that Ms. Wolf's campaign wrongly used county property to distribute political lawn signs.)

Perhaps being less the forthcoming, the Capps D.C. office says of Mr. Amerikaner: "Mr. Amerikaner and his firm have handled some legal issues relating to Congresswoman Capps' campaign. Her personal legal matters are private."

The Times story also featured Mickey Flacks, an activist with deep connections to Supervisor Rose, Rose ally Wolf and the Santa Barbara County Action Network, or SBCANT. The story failed to mention these connections.

I've taken issue with Mrs. Flacks on several matters, including her criticism of certain political involvement by the Chumash people, as reported in UCSB Professor Eve Darian-Smith's 2004 book on the tribe.

The professor wrote in one passage: "As Mickey Flacks, a prominent Democratic Party affiliate in the Santa Barbara community, revealed to me excitedly on the phone, 'The Indians have contributed $30,000 already to the recall effort (against Gail Marshall). They're players in all of this you know . . .' My response is why is it so amazing that Native Americans are significant political players, and moreover, why shouldn't they be?"

The professor is right.

SBCANT seems to have certain problems with the sovereignty and self-determination of Indian tribes, in light of its positions regarding the Santa Ynez Chumash. And its new executive director, Mary O'Gorman, while she was working for the city of Beverly Hills awhile back, wrote pointing a finger at me because of my take on former recall target and Chumash enemy Marshall. Ms. O'Gorman seemed possibly unnerved that I might have a variety of views of tribal casinos and that in columns for the News-Press and my last employer, the San Jose Mercury News, I spoke about them openly as a member of a federal recognized Indian tribe in Minnesota.

Funny how last week the activists behind SBCANT's slanted forum on the News-Press -- in which the group didn't invite News-Press management -- didn't mention how these pages have tried to be a watchdog over this self-promoting organization and its friends. The rival media ignored it too.

Similarly, there was no mention earlier that the organizer of a political rally in the plaza meant to slam the paper's management -- David Pritchett -- is with SBCAN and has worked closely with Ms. Rose. In a further ethical conflict, his wife, Cathy Murillo, has earned her livelihood working for the weekly freebie and a radio station.

The silence on the bias of all these folks says a lot about the disingenuousness of their tactics.

Travis Armstrong is the editorial page editor of the News-Press and host of a weekly public affairs radio program on AM 1290.

Travis Armstrong

TO THE EDITOR: Sara: if it's already been posted remove this part and just post the comment

Now for my comment: Travis must be spending time hoisting with Malibu Mel. This gibberish is hard to comprehend without a slug from a bottle...I am dizzy from names to blame...perhaps an early morning margarita will bring clarity...ah, yes, glug, glug, glug, I get it...it's Susan Rose's fault...well, of course! Glug, glug, glug...we are all drowning...unfortunately not in margaritas, but in poison, and fatalities surround us. There is nothing funny about this...it is just plain sad...glug, glug, glug.

8/04/2006 10:15 AM  
Blogger Craig Smith's Blog said...

Conspiracy Theory at the News-Press. News-Press editorial page editor Travis Armstrong is back with a vengeance this morning penning an editorial that thoroughly exposes the "grassy knoll" aspect of his thinking. According to Armstrong, every local democratic politician and rival media outlet are in cahoots to shut down the News-Press all because it dares to hold the politicians accountable for their policy decisions. Give me a break! (Read rest of post.)

8/04/2006 10:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is how bad things are at the local paper. Dan Secord, who is the endorsed candidate of the News Press for 2nd District Supervisor, showed up at the protest in support of the "News Press Nine".

Dr. Dan was among the 1000 people in attendance demanding restoration of the wall between news and editorial.

8/04/2006 11:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I say, Good for you Travis! Go get em! Turnabout is fair play.

8/04/2006 1:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a 10th generation Californian, yes some of us are still around, Santa Barbara Politics today is all about those who came here in the 1960’s and 70’s anointing themselves as royalty. Marty/Blarney from Chicago are no better than Wendy and Ty, carpetbaggers one and all, no better or worse than the other.

Heal California’s once pristine environment, if your great-grandparents weren’t born here Leave, it was Paradise before you came.

8/04/2006 1:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like 1:08 is chugging the same spiked kool-aide as Trav!

8/04/2006 1:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the national attention on the news-press never stops. here is something published today by "editor and publisher." Trav not metioned.

A Restraining Order for Former Calif. 'News-Press' Biz Editor?

By Joe Strupp

Published: August 04, 2006 12:00 PM ET

NEW YORK As if things at the Santa Barbara (Calif.) News-Press weren't complicated enough following last month's mass resignation of editors claiming meddling by the paper's owner, now comes word of a restraining order being requested by the paper against one of the editors who quit.

Former business editor Michael Todd, who joined five other editors in resigning the week of July 6, is accused of making threatening comments to a part-time photographer in June, according to court documents obtained by E&P. The photographer, Ana Elisa Fuentes, claims that Todd mentioned thoughts of hitting her with a car and joked about shooting her in two separate incidents.

"These threats concern me greatly. I am afraid of Mr. Todd," she said in a statement that was part of the request for a restraining order filed July 11. "I believe he wants to harm me. I can fathom no reason for his statements: it certainly is not in the realm of humor. It is explicit and graphic."

Todd contends that the comments were clearly done in a joking manner and could in no way be taken seriously. He also claims that the incident actually occurred in late May, not in June as the court documents contend. He points out that the restraining order was not filed until after he and the other editors quit. "The whole restraining order thing is totally and completely retaliatory," he told E&P.

The restraining order request was filed by Ampersand Publishing, the News-Press' parent company, in Santa Barbara Superior Court. A hearing on the request is set for Aug. 15. The court action seeks an order barring Todd from coming within 100 yards of Fuentes, her home, or the News-Press. It also asks that he be ordered to surrender any firearms in his possession.

In the complaint, Fuentes notes a June 15 incident in the newspaper's parking lot in which she claims Todd said, "I was going to run you over with my car, but you were talking to girls, who seemed nice, and I didn't want to hurt them." In another conversation the following day in the newsroom, Fuentes claims Todd said, "I decided If I was going to kill you, I would shoot you, with a gun, it's less messy that way. You know all the body parts on the grill of my car, just too messy."

Todd told E&P that Fuentes actually initiated the second conversation, asking in an obvious joking manner about his previous comments.

Publisher Arthur Von Wiesenberger said Fuentes brought her concerns to editors, including former Editor Jerry Roberts, shortly after the incidents occurred, but they did not follow up. He said Fuentes chose to write a letter to Von Wiesenberger and owner Wendy McCaw, who contacted the newspaper's attorney and filed the restraining order request.

"The employee felt the statement was threatening to her, that he was in possession of a gun," said Attorney David Milstein, who is representing the paper. "We have a duty to protect employees."

Roberts, who is among the editors who resigned last month in protest, said in an e-mail that he was never contacted by Fuentes about the alleged threats, but heard about them from another editor. "I immediately instructed the editor to investigate it, and followed proper company procedures for looking into such allegations," Roberts wrote to E&P.

Von Wiesenberger said Todd was suspended after the complaint by Fuentes was made, but quit as part of the mass resignation before any further action could be taken by the paper. Agnes Huff, a spokeswoman for the newspaper, said Todd admitted making the comments to newspaper executives during a discussion "and was remorseful."

The restraining order request is the latest in a month of contentious activities at the paper that began July 6 when six editors, including Roberts and Todd, joined longtime columnist Barney Brantingham and an investigative reporter in tendering their resignations in protest against McCaw, whom they clamed was interfering in newsroom decisions.

After the resignations were announced, McCaw and Von Wiesenberger claimed they were trying to improve the paper and end what they saw as bias in reporting. In the weeks since, some newsroom employees have sought union representation, asking the owners to recognize the Graphic Communications Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters as their bargaining unit.

After the owners declined, several newsroom members said they would go through the proper channels to stage a certification vote. They also have launched a campaign to get readers to cancel their subscriptions in protest.

Von Wiesenberger said he believes the paper is actually improving, claiming that subscriptions are up by more than 400 in July and denying that a union is needed for editorial employees. "We recognize our employees' rights to unionize, we don't think it is the best thing for the paper or the community," he said. "I think the paper has done very well without unions."

Some employees claim that the paper is boosting circulation with severe discounts, but they offered no specifics.

Von Wiesenberger noted the recent hiring of famed radio therapist Dr. Laura Schlessinger as a columnist, replacing Brantingham. "She approached us when she heard our columnist had departed," he said about the local resident. "[Her column] is very Santa Barbara-oriented. It is wonderful to see her take this on."

In a related move, two more journalists -- a copy editor and a reporter -- tendered their resignations this week, making it a total of 11 News-Press stafers who have quit in the recent mass exodus, according to the Santa Barbara (Calif.) Independent.

Von Wiesenberger said he believes the paper had rid itself of much of the alleged bias, but declined to note specific instances of it in the past. "We are getting honest, non-biased writing, which is what the news should be," he said. Commenting on the press coverage of the paper's recent troubles, he said the biggest misconception out there is "that Ms. McCaw and management doesn't believe in free press. We are extremely adamant about a free press and honest, non-bias reporting."

He also said that running the paper is not "a popularity contest" for McCaw or himself. "We are striving to get more great writing and make the paper the best it can be."




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Joe Strupp (jstrupp@editorandpublisher.com) is a senior editor at E&P.

8/04/2006 2:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reporters Chuck Schulz and Josh Molina quit today. Chuck had 25 years with the NP, Josh maybe 10. No doubt they'll be replaced by recent graduates who don't the know the difference between Fiesta and Doritos.

These weren't guys with an ax to grind or slackers about to be fired. They're good, solid journalists who couldn't stand to see their paper destroyed and colleagues maligned by the Wendy-Nipper-Travis axis of evil incompetence. Sometimes enough is enough, and they'd had it.

Santa Barbara will be a poorer city without their contributions. Thanks, guys, for everything.

8/04/2006 2:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, Travis knows that the only bad publicity is his obituary. The News-Press has gotten loads of free advert out of all the hoopla, and really, his op-ed is just an effort to get some more. The 9 or now 11 have benefitted as well, although not as much as Wendy-O-Willful and Travisty who never lost an income stream.

The tipoff is... `...to try to stifle community debate.' Let's see.... have 2 or 3 rallies and a forum to... stifle community debate? What has he been smoking?

The answer is he has been smokin' hard cold Hollywood cash. The more argumentation, the more publicity, and the more money everybody from Roberts to Wendy-O gets.

8/04/2006 2:46 PM  
Anonymous Nelville Flynn said...

Where there's an actual conspiracy to slander the News-Press management and depress circulation, it's undeniable that recent events have emboldened the paper's critics. Unlike his foes, Travis K. Armstrong is at least honest enough to stand up for his beliefs. Opponents of the newspaper are cloaking their vendetta in the guise of "journalistic ethics," when few of them understand journalistic ethics -- most of them are motivated by personal animus toward the newspaper and its editorial positions. Won't they at least have the courage to admit that?

8/04/2006 3:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1:43 Nope, not drinking. Sounds like maybe you could use a cocktail. I like Travis' style and whit. We each are entitled to our opinion. Some of us are glad Armstrong enlightens us.

8/04/2006 3:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Judging from that writing, it seems the Unibomber is the acting publisher of the News Press.

8/04/2006 4:20 PM  
Anonymous Amused cabal-ist said...

YOU GO TRAVIS!!!
Too many tequila shots at Fiesta yesterday, my man? You've outdone even your own "standards" with your high-school-age accusations, name-calling and delusions....
If Wendy or Arthur actually believe you HELP the News-Press cause, well, hey---they will get nothing less than they deserve---
So, keep it up, Travesty-----we all love watching you implode!

8/04/2006 4:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Check out the quotes from ARTHUR V-W in the below article from E&P:

A Restraining Order for Former Calif. 'News-Press' Biz Editor?

By Joe Strupp

Published: August 04, 2006 12:00 PM ET

NEW YORK As if things at the Santa Barbara (Calif.) News-Press weren't complicated enough following last month's mass resignation of editors claiming meddling by the paper's owner, now comes word of a restraining order being requested by the paper against one of the editors who quit.

Former business editor Michael Todd, who joined five other editors in resigning the week of July 6, is accused of making threatening comments to a part-time photographer in June, according to court documents obtained by E&P. The photographer, Ana Elisa Fuentes, claims that Todd mentioned thoughts of hitting her with a car and joked about shooting her in two separate incidents.

"These threats concern me greatly. I am afraid of Mr. Todd," she said in a statement that was part of the request for a restraining order filed July 11. "I believe he wants to harm me. I can fathom no reason for his statements: it certainly is not in the realm of humor. It is explicit and graphic."

Todd contends that the comments were clearly done in a joking manner and could in no way be taken seriously. He also claims that the incident actually occurred in late May, not in June as the court documents contend. He points out that the restraining order was not filed until after he and the other editors quit. "The whole restraining order thing is totally and completely retaliatory," he told E&P.

The restraining order request was filed by Ampersand Publishing, the News-Press' parent company, in Santa Barbara Superior Court. A hearing on the request is set for Aug. 15. The court action seeks an order barring Todd from coming within 100 yards of Fuentes, her home, or the News-Press. It also asks that he be ordered to surrender any firearms in his possession.

In the complaint, Fuentes notes a June 15 incident in the newspaper's parking lot in which she claims Todd said, "I was going to run you over with my car, but you were talking to girls, who seemed nice, and I didn't want to hurt them." In another conversation the following day in the newsroom, Fuentes claims Todd said, "I decided If I was going to kill you, I would shoot you, with a gun, it's less messy that way. You know all the body parts on the grill of my car, just too messy."

Todd told E&P that Fuentes actually initiated the second conversation, asking in an obvious joking manner about his previous comments.

Publisher Arthur Von Wiesenberger said Fuentes brought her concerns to editors, including former Editor Jerry Roberts, shortly after the incidents occurred, but they did not follow up. He said Fuentes chose to write a letter to Von Wiesenberger and owner Wendy McCaw, who contacted the newspaper's attorney and filed the restraining order request.

"The employee felt the statement was threatening to her, that he was in possession of a gun," said Attorney David Milstein, who is representing the paper. "We have a duty to protect employees."

Roberts, who is among the editors who resigned last month in protest, said in an e-mail that he was never contacted by Fuentes about the alleged threats, but heard about them from another editor. "I immediately instructed the editor to investigate it, and followed proper company procedures for looking into such allegations," Roberts wrote to E&P.

Von Wiesenberger said Todd was suspended after the complaint by Fuentes was made, but quit as part of the mass resignation before any further action could be taken by the paper. Agnes Huff, a spokeswoman for the newspaper, said Todd admitted making the comments to newspaper executives during a discussion "and was remorseful."

The restraining order request is the latest in a month of contentious activities at the paper that began July 6 when six editors, including Roberts and Todd, joined longtime columnist Barney Brantingham and an investigative reporter in tendering their resignations in protest against McCaw, whom they clamed was interfering in newsroom decisions.

After the resignations were announced, McCaw and Von Wiesenberger claimed they were trying to improve the paper and end what they saw as bias in reporting. In the weeks since, some newsroom employees have sought union representation, asking the owners to recognize the Graphic Communications Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters as their bargaining unit.

After the owners declined, several newsroom members said they would go through the proper channels to stage a certification vote. They also have launched a campaign to get readers to cancel their subscriptions in protest.

Von Wiesenberger said he believes the paper is actually improving, claiming that subscriptions are up by more than 400 in July and denying that a union is needed for editorial employees. "We recognize our employees' rights to unionize, we don't think it is the best thing for the paper or the community," he said. "I think the paper has done very well without unions."

Some employees claim that the paper is boosting circulation with severe discounts, but they offered no specifics.

Von Wiesenberger noted the recent hiring of famed radio therapist Dr. Laura Schlessinger as a columnist, replacing Brantingham. "She approached us when she heard our columnist had departed," he said about the local resident. "[Her column] is very Santa Barbara-oriented. It is wonderful to see her take this on."

In a related move, two more journalists -- a copy editor and a reporter -- tendered their resignations this week, making it a total of 11 News-Press stafers who have quit in the recent mass exodus, according to the Santa Barbara (Calif.) Independent.

Von Wiesenberger said he believes the paper had rid itself of much of the alleged bias, but declined to note specific instances of it in the past. "We are getting honest, non-biased writing, which is what the news should be," he said. Commenting on the press coverage of the paper's recent troubles, he said the biggest misconception out there is "that Ms. McCaw and management doesn't believe in free press. We are extremely adamant about a free press and honest, non-bias reporting."

He also said that running the paper is not "a popularity contest" for McCaw or himself. "We are striving to get more great writing and make the paper the best it can be."

8/04/2006 4:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nelville should at least have the guts to admit that he doesn't have the slightest idea what he's talking about. The resignations and turmoil at the News-Press are EXACTLY about journalistic ethics. When the owner kills stories, punishes employees for doing their jobs and then maligns them in print, she creates an atmosphere that professional journalists (as opposed to wealthy hobbyists) will find untenable.

As for Travis, he's clearly delusional, seeing enemies in every person who dares question him and his conspiracy theories.

This nightmare, Nelville, is about the fundamental need to have an independent press unsullied by the whims of sociopathic gazillionaires who think the world exists to flatter them. Lickspittles like you will never understand this.

8/04/2006 6:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was just wondering ... What has been the impact to the NP's advertising revenue? They keep insisting that their subscriber base is increasing but I understand that has minimal impact on profitibilty. I know that I have noticed some MIA's.

8/04/2006 7:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So what's the body count now? Unlucky 13? How many more?

8/04/2006 9:23 PM  
Anonymous The Story remains alive said...

Thirteen by my count, with four in this past week alone-

Cohee, Molina, Schultz, Foster

So sad, so unnecessary and made especially grotesque by the paranoid delusional rantings of "editorial page editor" Armstrong. Can't wait till the L.A. Times and Ventura Star 'respond' to his twisted conspiracy theories involving their writers.

8/05/2006 10:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Armstron, in his piece, notes:
"In Times reporter James Rainey's interview with me while I temporarily served as acting publisher in July, I asked him if the newspaper's assistant managing editor for Page 1, John Arthur, had a hand in one of Mr. Rainey's stories on the News-Press resignations. The impression I got from Mr. Rainey's dancing around the question was yes. Mr. Arthur, before this story appeared, told one of the departing editors in an e-mail to "hang in there! Best, John."

How's that for journalistic detachment?"

-------

So he reads his editors' e-mails?

8/05/2006 6:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

didn't the indy reprot that wendy pulled the editors harddrives from the coputers after they left. her lawyers didn't deny it to the indy. what else did they read?

8/05/2006 8:37 PM  
Anonymous First District Streetfighter said...

Travis A. is reading and saving the email messages of the News-Press staff who have departed. This is yet another example of the downward slippery sliding slope of failing journalistic ethics there, because the content of those email messages now appears in the published News-Press editorial.

The computers of the News-Press staff who resigned and/or were pushed out were confiscated by Ampersand and the email messages saved on those computers are now being reviewed by Travis A. and Millstein the cabal of attorneys looking for anything to justify more harassment against the remaining staff and former staff.

Thus, email messages to those reporters and editors, which one would think are confidential under the traditional tenants of journalism where a source can remain confidential and protected, now are no longer confidential and anything juicy now is held by the now very paranoid Travis A., ready for his next editorial hissy fit.

Travis A. wrote in his own shrill editorial that he read the "hang in there" email message that was sent by a Los Angeles Times editor to a now-departed News-Press editor.

The remaining News-Press staff now need to delete everything and do their work off a web-based email system.

8/05/2006 9:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel sorry for the remaining veteran N-P reporters (not the scabs who are recent college grads filling the seats of the pros who resigned); who on earth will want to communicate with reporters--either email or phone knowing that the ARMSTRONG/MCCAW/WEISENBERGER machine is spying, reviewing emails, probably scanning phone records, etc.
Sorry, but I have a feeling there will be a glut of "no comment" or "calls not returned" popping up on the ever-dwindling pages of the N-P.

8/05/2006 10:18 PM  
Anonymous First District Streetfighter said...

for you spellars:
TENETs of journalism, not "tennant"

I must have been thinking of the revenue from the Tennants in the Ellwood Shores apartment building by Developer Dan Secord.

8/05/2006 11:51 PM  
Anonymous dd said...

Hey guys - I hate to break this news to you but case law in the State of California has ruled that any electronic means of communication used by the employee and owned by the employer is NOT confidential to the employee only.

The employer owns the equipment and your communications when you are on their time. Period. There is NO "right to privacy" at all.

Travis IS doing a great disservice to all by advertising what a skunk he is by reading all the hard drives.

Oh, and erasing doesn't delete the message completely. The only way to do that is to remove the hard drive and replace it with a new one - and be sure to physically destroy the former. Otherwise, anything you write (and even erase) can be recreated.
dd

8/06/2006 5:25 AM  
Anonymous First District Streetfighter said...

One more time, the point with reading email is not that it is illegal on a company computer, but that such communications with actual ethical journalists no longer can be considered confidential under the traditional tenets of journalistic ethics. This is not a "right to privacy" issue just like the unprofessional slide at News-Press is not a "freedom of the press" issue.

But now we know that innocuous notes of "hang in there" from one newspaper editor to another now will be fodder for future editorializing and also strategic or legal action against the former and remaining staff.

8/06/2006 7:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Going back to the title of this entry: Clearly Armstrong/the paper is not in denial about the bias in favor of the police!!!

The screech this morning by "Dr" Laura (Yeah, I know she has a PhD in physiology) followed some pages later by the editorial make it clear.

I agree with Brian Barnwell (and don't always agree with him): there needs to be an outside and independent analysis of the pay scale/working conditions (hours, etc.) of the police department, perhaps an audit, in comparison with other cities of comparable size - and tourism. (It should also include what losses have been incurred through discrimination or other workplace lawsuits.)

As for home ownership: 58% (and probably more) of Santa Barbara city is tenants; why should police/fire or any government employee be different? Do fire/police in NYC or other cities own their own homes? What about other California coastal communities?

All that is not to say home ownership is not desirable but this PR campaign begins to smell fishy, red herring et al fishy.....

Would that the NP show as much concern and solicitation for a journalist union as it does for the police union!

8/06/2006 9:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Travis and Wendy are now snuggling up to the police union! A few months ago, they slammed the cops for being able to retire at 50 with 90% of their salary..what's changed? Nothing..just a chance for them to revisit their obsession with the city council.
We have plenty of cops...but never enough for those who can't take responsibility for their own safety!

8/06/2006 11:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, every great fortune is built on a great crime... BTW, ever notice who owns liquor distribution on the South Coast?

And once you are in the clear, what do you need? The Police and Sheriffs to protect you from the next guy with your idea.

So Sheriff and Police Unions get strong support from the otherwise right-wingers (well, right-wing after they have got their fortune).

Firestone voted for Sheriff's raises. And otherwise free-market rightwingers need the cops to protect ill-gotten gains, so they will support the Police Union's 36% raise. Meanwhile, the rest of us will just have to work a little harder and scrimp a little more to just scrape by.

8/06/2006 12:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Many law enforcers and fire fighters choose jobs in other communities due to the lack of, or the high price of, SB housing. Laura PhD neglects to bring this fact up in todays NP Blum-bash, either because she doesn’t understand or because of allegiance to Travis groupie Gary Earle and his HDF pals who, of course, oppose affordable housing. I predict the NIMBY super rich will soon be learning to lug a fire hose and tote a police stick (Arthur can bring the water) because the protection folks will choose to live and work in a community that values and supports them as neighbors as well as guardians.

8/06/2006 12:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Word to my SBPOA friends: beware of the value of Travis Armstrong and Dr. Laura endorsing your demands.

At the moment, neither of them hold much positive sway with South Coast residents or policy makers; much to the contrary, in fact.

Just stick to the facts, guys, and reach out beyond the nutty Newspress 'management'....they are unraveling and will be taking their 'friends' down with them as they go

8/06/2006 12:56 PM  
Anonymous First District Streetfighter said...

Was that screech a column by "Dr." Laura, or was it another of the series of paid ads by the Police union?

So the advertisers AND the editorial position of the newspaper are now integrating into the content of the rest of the newspaper! The Sunday editorial was the same message too. Remember when the News-Press had a separate "Voices" section? They apparently are not interested in too many voices but their own and those of their supporters and Yes-men.

"Dr. Laura" also tried some truthiness about the Police salaries, where she does not know the difference between "quoted in the Independent" versus the actual writing that was really a long letter to the editor of the Independent (in their weekly Independent Voices feature of contributed opinion essays). Here is what the Schlesinger column wrote: "And, to make matters worse, Tim Roberts, a Santa Barbara police officer from 1979 to 2005, was quoted in the Independent (July 20, 2006) as saying that, "It now appears that 90 percent of nighttime police resources are being used for 2 percent of the real estate, namely the downtown corridor.""

Now that is a fine quote to make a point, but it is just an excerpt from an opinion piece. Does "Dr. Laura" really not understand the difference that quoted by a newspaper is not really the same meaning as getting a long letter published as an opinion piece?

Maybe experience matters in writing for a newspaper? The News-Press now has a bevy of rookie news writers, and now has a rookie columnist as well, all insulting the readers again and again.

This new columnist further included this drivel after the lengthy Police union plug:
"Too Much Tolerance is not a good thing: Tolerance is a good thing . . . right? When people are tolerant they recognize and respect the beliefs and practices of others. A prevalent social assumption has been made that all beliefs and practices are of equal value and due equal respect, simply because someone holds them dear. Judgment about someone's beliefs or practices has become a social sin."

So this example, today at least, is complaining about a court ruling in Holland (yes, a legal ruling in Europe is apparently relevant here) allowing a political party to form based on its beliefs in pedophilia. Of course, everyone should be against that, but somehow I suspect the legal details, from Europe, were a bit more complex.

At this rate of overly simplistic generalizations and stereotypes, gay bashing is due in about a week for this new joke columnist.

8/06/2006 1:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pardon me, but this talk about housing in Santa Barbara for cops and fire is not coming from them. The Cops especially just want to get paid enough to commute here. Driving through five jurisdictions that are hiring and paying more, to sit in traffic is losing it's allure for them. No one from either the Cops or Fire is saying that they will need to get paid enough to buy a home here. That ship sailed a long time ago. The only ones mouthing that line are politicians seeking to curry favor or developers hoping to do the same. Fire and Cops figured that out a long time ago. Marty, Marcelo and Armstrong can spin that tale but where is the proof? So let's stop that particluar rant.

But if you think that this Cop issue isn't real serious you aren't paying attention bubba. There was an extraordinarly brutal rape and beating on De La Vina Street a few weeks ago, hear about it? I didn't think so. It is shameful that this Council cannot or will not devote the amount of time needed to face this crisis as they do to countless other issues. The public discussion of this had been extraorinarily limited. Hey Council, you got your big raise, roll up your big Fiesta costume sleeves and get to work. What do you plan on doing ? This is the real deal. No ribbon cutting involved.

Also give me the name of one Cop that retired at 90% of their salary at 50. Here's a hint, there isn't one. Not one.

8/06/2006 2:00 PM  
Anonymous First District Streetfighter said...

So did we "not hear" about "an extraordinarly brutal rape and beating on De La Vina Street a few weeks ago" because the police are so thin they cannot even record a report, or because the News-Press does not want to report anything that makes the police look bad?

You guys with the crying police spin machine need to think through your arguements a bit clearer next time. And you also should know that the more complaining and fearmongering you do, the more you turn off the public and give cover to the City Council to stick with the already generous offer of 19% increase.

Everybody wants to be be paid more, live in a bigger home, and commute far less. Welcome to the cabal.

8/06/2006 4:52 PM  
Anonymous First District Streetfighter said...

When it is published, the anticipated Vanity Fair article certainly should be a new subject here for Blogabarbara.

VANITY FAIR update?

According to their editorial schedule here
http://www.condenastmediakit.com/vf/calendar.cfm

the September issue goes on sale on August 8, and the October issue will be on sale Sept. 12.

Anyone with an update or correction if the NewsPressMess is in which issue of Vanity Fair?

8/06/2006 5:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The cops always got the best contracts and left the crumbs to the rest of the city workers..the coddling needs to stop. They make plenty! If they can't live on $70000 a year..take some money management classes! Instead of spending time shaking down taxpayers with bogus traffic tickets, they should be out walking the neighborhood beat. Sanchez is a lousy leader and chief..he needs to go!

8/07/2006 7:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The point, FDS, is that you don't know about things because you live in this silly blog world. There are thousands of people in this town who depend on the public safety people on a daily basis. And they do know. That's why, even after a muddled campaign, the PD already have enough public support to carry the day. You think City Hall doesn't know this? Why do you think they go to them for election support? Wrong on the Easter egg hunt, wrong on this, you are just a very out of touch and unhappy Streetfighter

8/07/2006 7:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Hurricane Wendy story will appear in the October Edition of Vanity Fair, which will be on the stands the last week of September. The writer was scheduled to submit his completed story last Thursday and a photo team, ensconced for three days in a posh downtown hotel, left town last Wednesday carting hundreds of images to choose from. Vanity Fair spared no expense to cover this story, so it sounds like it might be a major spread--cover material perhaps?

8/07/2006 8:59 AM  
Anonymous First District Streetfighter said...

Per my link posted above, the "editorial calendar" at the Vanity Fair web site notes that the October issue goes on sale on Sept. 12, noted as the "New Establishment Issue." I just hope Conde Naste publishers know to boost their distribution in Santa Barbara about 10-fold for that month.

But maybe I am wrong about the publication schedule because I live in this silly little blog world. After all, if I did not live here, I would not believe that the police union buying junk candy for the Easter Egg Hunt was not just a publicity ploy. Of course, the City money to support the Egg Hunt comes out of the same city General Fund budget as what would pay the police salaries.

8/07/2006 10:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I take issue with those of you that have cancelled your subscribtions to NP because of the drival being written, yet come to this blog to read those very same columns/articles and give your comments. You lost the right to complain when you cancelled your subscription. Perhaps you are really now just closet NP readers? Hypocrisy at its best.

8/07/2006 10:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

FDS,

You are so sour. Have a little candy, it'll sweeten up your day.

8/07/2006 12:08 PM  
Anonymous First District Streetfighter said...

It is hypocritical only if one PAYS for the newspaper and supports its advertisers. Understand the difference between paying for it versus reading it through other venues.

Amazing how Friends of Travisty and their ilk do not want the critics of the New-Press to know its content either.

8/07/2006 1:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey 10:50am, the NP is available in public libraries! best way to read it... no cost! would be better, I admit, if the library would cut out all the ads too, but can't ask for everything. But seeing the ads tells me what businesses to avoid.

8/07/2006 3:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Public Safety Public Safety Public Safety - give them what they ask for.

8/07/2006 3:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why is it hypocrisy to still care about the fate of our local paper AND cancel our subscriptions? That's not hypocrisy, it's action. 10:50am is out to lunch. We don't lose our right to do anything; your "logic" makes no sense at all.

Since my letters are never printed in the NP, I am out of options other than cancelling my subscription and trying to support the effort to unionize the newsroom.

8/07/2006 4:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To 10:50 AM. Many people who read papers are not subscribers...that is why there are libraries and newspaper racks all over town. Subscriptions are a convenience—a convenience some of us preferred to give up in order to make a statement.

We chose to make this statement not because we had lost interest in the news, or because we were offended by the often informative and well-written stories, but because we were offended by the high-handed, closed-minded, unprofessional and oppressive behavior of the owner.

I don't call that hypocrisy; I call it "ethics" and I was very proud to state my disapproval by joining the legions of the un-subscribed! Furthermore you've given me an opportunity to suggest anyone who wants to demonstrate his or her own disapproval do so by going to the "Save the News Press" site and signing a non-subscription pledge.

And by the way. as an added bonus of canceling my subscription I have met many new like-minded people in cafes and shops, as we read, share and laugh over the ridiculous NewsMess--it's a whole new bonding activity!

8/07/2006 10:08 PM  
Blogger Craig Smith's Blog said...

While Armstrong's enemies list gets fatter, the paper continues to get skinnier. Read more.

8/08/2006 6:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's amazing how many don't get the fact that the NP is a private business, and if they choose to run it into the ground, or get rid of dead weight and make it better, so be it.

8/08/2006 8:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding the Santa Rosa Island Ed-Op this in morning's 'N-P' 8/806 [which might be another repeat.]Again its more rumors. Remember the rumor about the Nature Conservancy wanting to put up resort hotel on Santa Cruz. Travis has an incredible imagination. Has he ever been to the channel islands? Have Wendy or Nipper been to the Islands lately and actually comunicated with actual scientists who are tring to protect the islands. I think not. Their idea of a scientist is [Dr.] Larura.
The game animals like the the wild pigs and the black rats are not native species and are [were] a real threat to endanged species. This problem was dealt with very effectivly. The News Press will never admit it but it is working.
The introduced game on Santa Rosa is being seasonly hunted now so whats the big deal in hunting them down to the last animal. Believe it or not the NPS has plan. The New Press just loves to spread rumors without any proof.
The stewardship of the islands under the NPS and the Nature Conservancy is a quite a contrast to ownership of the News Press

8/08/2006 10:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Sara, Tsk, tsk for not posting my comment. If people cancel their subscriptions for "altruistic reasons" then they need to just plain shut the hell up. Many of us don't want to read the "drivel" that the whining brats are writing. As said before, turnabout is fair play.

8/08/2006 5:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't feel too special, 5:06. Sara didn't post my comment about your inanities of 10:50 yesterday, when you couldn't even spell "drivel." If she had, you would have read that I told you that people don't give up their right to speak simply because they refuse to give Wendy their money. I said other things, but I'm guessing Sara didn't appreciate that I suggested you remove your head from your backside before posting.

If you don't like the protesting over Wendy's reign of error, I'm sure you'll find postings more to your liking on freerepublic or National Review online.

8/09/2006 1:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1:39 PM

You have just reinforced my opinion that this blog is just a bunch of whining brats with nothing better to do that bash people. Have a good time. I won't be back which is sad for you because I have known Travis for over 20 years and could tell you what he thinks of this drival/drivel. Whichever way you spell it - it is still whining. Get a life!

8/10/2006 4:19 AM  
Blogger Guilded Truth said...

Here's a catchy song about Wendy and crew that is free to download and distribute.

http://www.esnips.com/web/guildedtruthsOtherStuff

8/10/2006 3:19 PM  
Blogger Guilded Truth said...

Here's a song written specifically about Wendy, Travis, and Co.

http://www.esnips.com/web/guildedtruthsOtherStuff

8/10/2006 4:02 PM  

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