FBLA EXCLUSIVE: Ross Johnson on Wendy McCaw & Her Posse

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FBLA tracked down Ross Johnson and badgered him into telling us the story behind his Wendy McCaw story in the LA Weekly.

FBLA asked: How’d you get on to the “Wendy McCaw versus everyone else” track?

Johnson:
The story was originally 180 degrees the other way. Both Jill Stewart and I thought it would be interesting to contact the Wendy McCaw side first and try to get them to talk without being on the defensive. I called EVERYBODY in the posse. After a week with no callbacks, Jill just said ‘fuck it, do the story about the posse.’

That said, Jill and I were committed to getting Wendy’s side of the story: I was sort of like Diane Sawyer on a ‘get” quest and really wanted to get Wendy on the record in person. And I thought that the AJR story was too much of a tear jerker, so much so it aroused my suspicion (example: all the stuff about one of the editor’s sick 93 year old mother in law and how if he quit the News Press, she would be affected. Gimme a break) .

The big question was: Is Paterno’s AJR story true? If the AJR story is true, it doesn’t matter legally if the writer allegedly broke every rule of investigative journalism by not showing Wendy McCaw the potentially defamatory allegations before the story was published.

If the story’s truth is rubbery, the AJR might have problems. Pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court, It doesn’t matter if Wendy didn’t return Paterno’s calls while the AJR story info was being gathered; it was the obligation of Paterno and AJR to show the allegations in the AJR story prior to publishing the story to avoid reckless disregard for the truth claims if there are gray areas of the story.

The Weekly story was sort of dead when Wendy and her posse wouldn’t take the opportunity to tell their side of the story first. Then I browsed the web and saw that USA Today put a pdf link up to AJR/Paterno lawsuit, and I saw, for the first time, that Larry Stein had filed the lawsuit. I had profiled Larry in 2000 in the Los Angeles mag service piece “Raging Bulls: The Meanest Lawyers in Los Angeles.” And I knew right on Larry’s old web site–he changed firms this week–was the ACLU award information. So I knew Jill and I were back in business.


FBLA asked: What’s going on in Santa Barbara?

Johnson:
What you have going on in S.B. is more than a newsroom revolt. It’s a community revolt. There are all sorts of blogs devoted to putting every scrap of negative information about Wendy and per posse up on the web. That’s were I found the links to shots of Wendy’s boat; in the comments section of a blog.

FBLA asked: Is McCaw a cautionary tale for millionaires who’d be press barons?

Johnson:
What makes the News Press story weird is that Wendy McCaw can’t figure out she’s a publisher who’s afflicting the uncomfortable (i.e., her ex employees who she’s suing or threatening to sue).

I don’t mind rich people owning newspapers. I’m just afraid when rich people who own newspapers are afraid of admitting a mistake might have been made. And when you put out a daily newspaper, mistakes are made all the time.

Earlier:
Wendy McCaw Hired Lawyer Praised by ACLU to Sue Journalist