It's a memorable moment in journalism, an assault by a publisher on her own free press. But Wendy McCaw's heavy-handed managerial and legal maneuvers down>"/>
It's a memorable moment in journalism, an assault by a publisher on her own free press. But Wendy McCaw's heavy-handed managerial and legal maneuvers down in Santa Barbara likely come as no surprise to some lawyers in Seattle.
The former wife of Eastside telecom billionaire Craig McCaw and now publisher of the embattled News-Press in Santa Barbara, McCaw (pictured) squelched a potential story about the sentencing of one of her editors for drunken driving. That and other editorial conflicts ignited a staff revolt: Seven of the paper's top eight editors and a columnist walked out (a ninth quit later). When the dispute became national news, McCaw ran a front-page editorial accusing the ex-employees of distorting the news. She also instructed her own reporters and others to not comment when asked about the dispute and sent notices to three of the former employees threatening to take them to court if they exercised their right to speak freely.
While 500 people demonstrated against McCaw outside her newspaper this week, she expanded her attempts to muzzle even the press she doesn't own, ordering lawyers to issue a cease-and-desist order to the local alternative paper. (The paper caved—on the advice of its own lawyers.)
If nothing else, McCaw knows how to use the law and courts. It's how she became wealthy enough to turn novice publisher in 1997, buying the Santa Barbara paper for $100 million after receiving a divorce settlement from Craig McCaw which, the Washington Post reports today, was worth at least $460 million. That's about half right.
Wendy's attorneys outlawyered Craig's attorneys in a King County Superior Court evidence-discovery battle royal that led to the state's biggest-ever divorce settlement. As we reported in 1998, "housewife" Wendy outdueled cell-phone magnate Craig in pursuit of an estimated $2 billion in family holdings. Craig had enlisted 33 forensic financial experts and turned over 147,000 pages of paperwork to Wendy's attorneys in an attempt to prove what was his and what was hers. She countered with 30 experts of her own and 58,000 pages of paperwork, plus sought volumes of confidential records from other McCaw family members. She also served papers on Craig's business partners, Bill Gates and Boeing, who cried foul.
The pressure was on Craig and, within a few months, the McCaws settled. Including several boats and planes and four homes in California, Wendy walked away with somewhere around $1 billion in cash and assets, attorneys estimated.
At the Santa Barbara protest Tuesday, one placard read: "Wendy: Money Does Not Buy Everything." Maybe, but it buys a lot of attorneys.