Around the turn of the century, William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, the most powerful newspaper editors in America, decided to use their respective publications to instigate the Spanish-American War. Yellow journalism purposely abused the power of the press to further personal objectives. This incident represents an extreme example of print media molestation, but individuals ought to be reminded to pay attention, on a daily basis, to who is publishing what and why.
Wednesday’s edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press printed an article on the front page of the local section about News-Press owner Wendy McCaw’s lawsuit against the county. On Nov. 21, a Superior Court judge dismissed McCaw’s suit over a 500-foot beachfront access easement at the base of a bluff on her Hope Ranch property. McCaw’s legal team plans to appeal the decision, but her lawsuit is as unjust as the News-Press article is biased.
The Nexus is not suggesting that the owner of Santa Barbara’s largest newspaper accedes to the ranks of Hearst and Pulitzer, or even that she intentionally influenced the article. Most likely, the reporter felt that it was in his best interest to depict his boss in a favorable light, but the fact remains that the article is slanted.
Information in the article is extremely sparse. Given the relatively pristine condition of the Gaviota coast (a rarity for coastal areas statewide), the local desire to maintain that condition, and this lawsuit’s potential to set an important precedent, the News-Press had more than enough room to elaborate on the issue, but did not take advantage of it.
Furthermore, although avoiding a direct interjection of opinion, the article gives more weight to McCaw’s side of the story than to that of the county (which is allotted the second to last paragraph, after the continuation). Land access easements are a common compromise between coastal developers and county government, which seek to preserve the sanctity of coastal areas and maintain public access to the beachfront on private property. According to the article, McCaw claims she has no intention of prohibiting public use of the beach and merely wants to “rein back the government’s power.”
First of all, this is not the exercise of invasive government “power.” Property owners voluntarily offer easements to the county in exchange for certain concessions and the county’s willingness to compromise protects accessibility to one of this region’s most attractive commodities. The law limits private property to the high-tide mark and this easement would simply allow the public to walk above that line. There is nothing wrong with private ownership of beachfront property, but at the very least the public must have a right of passage.
The previous owner of the 25-acre property offered the easement to the county in 1982 in exchange for permission to build a sunroom and deck; McCaw knew full well what she was getting into when she purchased the land in 1995. Now, if McCaw does not intend to prohibit public use of the beach, one has to wonder why she is putting up such a fight. One thing is for certain – no such insights may be gleaned from the News-Press article.