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Ex-editor decries article suggesting he kept child porn

15,000 porn images found on Mac used by him and others

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The former editor for the Santa Barbara News-Press is threatening legal action after the paper published a story suggesting he kept child pornography on his work computer. The furor over Sunday's non-bylined story is the latest salvo in a long and acrimonious battle that has raged between the paper's outspoken publisher and current and former editorial employees that has brought charges of unethical behavior.

At issue, according to a story in the Santa Barbara Independent, is 15,000 images of child and adult pornography found on a computer that had been used by ex-editor Jerry Roberts and an unspecified number of his predecessors. The G4 Mac was purchased secondhand, and there were no time stamps on any of the deleted images.

Prosecutors had declined to bring charges in the case because there was no way to determine who downloaded them. So the News-Press decided to conduct its own investigation - though the term witch hunt may be more fitting given the questionable article that publicized the probe. In addition to singling out Roberts, rather than referring to every person who had access to the machine, the unnamed reporter or reporters who penned the article also failed to contact Roberts for comment, according to the Independent.

Roberts vehemently denies having anything to do with the images and has threatened the paper's publisher, Ampersand Publishing, which is solely controlled by Wendy P. McCaw. Roberts intends to demand a retraction and plans to sue if he doesn't get it. The article reporting the investigation by the News-Press was based on court documents the paper's attorneys filed requesting access to the confiscated hard drive. While US libel law makes it hard to sue for articles that cite public documents, Roberts said he believed he would be able to proceed because the publishers acted with malice by publishing allegations they knew to be untrue and for failing to allow him to comment for the story.

Indeed, it doesn't take a vivid imagination to hypothesize the story was generated more as retribution than a fearless search for the truth. Roberts's resignation last July over what he described as McCaw's improper meddling in newsroom decisions touched off a highly public debate that has resulted in the resignation of several other editors. Current and past employees remain estranged from management over their vote last fall to unionize. At one point, McCaw threatened legal action against local merchants for hanging signs sympathetic to the union efforts and a journalist for writing an unfavorable article about her in the American Journalism Review.

The ex-wife of cellphone entrepreneur Craig McCaw, Wendy McCaw bought the News-Press from the New York Times in 2000. The National Labor Relations Board has said it plans to prosecute News-Press management for unfairly firing eight reporters, according to news reports.

Sunday's article claimed Roberts refused to cooperate with police investigating the images. In fact, Roberts took and passed a polygraph test and answered investigators' questions via his lawyer while he was in the midst of being treated for cancer.

A March 2 letter written by district attorney prosecutor said there was no basis for filing charges. "At the present time there is insufficient evidence to warrant bringing charges against any individual," the letter stated. A former systems director for the paper agreed, arguing the drive containing the images could have been used by former employees years before Roberts. The director was so disturbed over the incident that he resigned.

News-Press officials referred calls seeking comment to outside attorney Barry Cappello. A spokeswoman said Cappello had no immediate comment. The News-Press article isn't available online except for those with a paid subscription. ®

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