Where are the media’s priorities?

Since last summer, Lou Cannon has attacked the Santa Barbara News-Press, and personally attacked this writer, its owner and publisher. Mr. Cannon once had a reputation as a journalist of note, but his recent op-ed piece exemplifies how so called “journalists” have tumbled into incredulity, self-destroying the image they so carefully created.

A recent PBS Frontline documentary entitled News War, about the public’s distrustful view of the news media today, reports that the public no longer is fooled by pontifications of mainstream media pundits and reporters. Today, the public distrusts and disbelieves journalists at levels unheard of in our country’s history. At the Santa Barbara News-Press, I, as owner, decided we no longer could tolerate journalists and editors who wrote what they wanted, when they wanted, with only passing care for the truth and with even fewer attempts at neutrality. In 2005, before all the rancor at the News-Press, we conducted an independent survey of our readers; we were shocked to learn that 64% of our readers believed our news articles were biased. While reporters had been warned on several prior occasions about this, little was done by the previous editors or management to stop it.

Last spring, after the former publisher left, Arthur von Wiesenberger and I demanded that the biased articles stop. The head of our newsroom, editor Jerry Roberts, quit in a fit of pique. His cadre of assistant editors quit in protest. In order to keep our paper running smoothly, we reviewed the two computers Roberts was using to determine where we could locate the stringers and freelancers, information that apparently was kept only on his computers.’ Roberts’ computers had been wiped clean. We then sent these computers to experts and learned that these computers, owned by our company, had been used to download thousands of images of children being sexually abused. It appears that someone at our company, probably on company time, was exploiting the traffic in child pornography.

Mr. Cannon exemplifies what is wrong with today’s journalistic elite. He purports to be a journalist, yet has never met me, much less made any attempt to talk to me or the co-publisher, Arthur Von Wiesenberger, about the matters which he claims to care about. Facts seem to be unimportant to him. The misery of these exploited children is meaningless to him. Mr. Cannon, you ignore the fact that perhaps one or more of your fellows may have engaged in this conduct. It now is apparent to all where your true sympathies lie.

The Lou Cannons of this world missed the point in our story that our newsroom computers contained this vile material, and how we at the News-Press are fighting to determine who did it. Now we have a real story: It’s a story of just how cavalier many in our country are to the suffering and misery of the children subjected to this depravity. Whoever traffics in it, whoever excuses it, simply aids and abets the victimization of those innocents.

Mr. Cannon’s op-ed piece is proof that bias and misplaced allegiance is no substitute for the truth. If Mr. Cannon practiced the profession he claims to be a part of, perhaps he would fact check, verify and obtain other sources before he engages us again.

We are at the dawn of a new age in the news business. The newspaper, the TV news, the news media in general, have been turned upside down by the Internet. The old school of media owners not being involved in the actual publication of their papers is at an end, if they are to survive. The public has learned that the Lou Cannon journalistic elite, including our former editors, were unreliable. The public now is choosing to get their news elsewhere. We in Santa Barbara intend to change with the times and deliver a product our readers want. At the same time, we will not countenance crimes being committed on our property.

We intend to write more about the scourge of child pornography and we intend to uncover and expose anyone, including any former or current employees of our paper, who traffics and delights in the sexual abuse of children. The story has just begun.

Wendy McCaw is the owner and co-publisher of the Santa Barbara News-Press.

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