Rancor Rises Over Santa Barbara Newspaper

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LOS ANGELES, April 22 — An ugly conflict involving a wealthy local publisher turned even uglier Sunday as The Santa Barbara News-Press published a front-page article suggesting that the paper’s former editor had kept child pornography on his work computer, a claim that the editor promptly denounced as “malicious.”

The publisher, Wendy P. McCaw, has a history of contentious relations with that editor, Jerry Roberts, who resigned his post last July over what he called her interference in news decisions. Several other editors and a columnist resigned at that time in protest, and many others have resigned or been fired over the last year because of ongoing disagreements with Ms. McCaw.

Current and past employees of the paper are at odds with Ms. McCaw over their vote to unionize last fall, which she has declined to recognize. Ms. McCaw has also stirred broader tension in the community with threats of legal action against local merchants who hung signs sympathetic to the union cause, and against a journalist who wrote an unfavorable article about her in The American Journalism Review.

But the latest twist took the antagonisms even further.

In the article on Sunday, which carried no byline, the newspaper wrote that Ampersand Publishing, the parent company of The News-Press, was seeking to retrieve from police the hard drive of the computer used by Mr. Roberts, “which contains according to the police more than 15,000 images of child and adult pornography.”

The article noted that the city opposed the newspaper’s attempts to obtain the hard drive, and that the district attorney had declined to file charges after a police investigation. It added that Ampersand “is conducting its own internal investigation to determine the source of the material.”

Mr. Roberts held a news conference on Sunday to refute the suggestion that the illegal material was his. “It is false, defamatory, malicious and was published in full knowledge that it was untrue,” he said in an interview afterward. “It was a cowardly attack, unsigned, and not preceded by any attempt to contact me for comment.”

Wow. I wish I subscribed to the News-Press just so I could cancel my subscription. Details here from Sharon Waxman of the New York Times.