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Whittier newspaper changes mind, frustrates anti-drilling activists

April 6, 2012 |  7:20 pm

The editorial board of the Whitter Daily News is taking heat from local activists after the newspaper posted an ''erroneous" City Council campaign endorsement online, then substituted a corrected version overnight.

On Thursday afternoon, the paper posted a Web editorial that backed council challengers Nick Donovan, Lupe Sahagun Garcia and Craig Lebow, all of whom oppose an oil company’s controversial plan to drill for crude within the city limits.

“They collectively question whether Whittier will ever see a windfall from oil revenues and are suspicious of the oil industry in general, and rightly so,” the endorsement said.

However, that online endorsement was changed Friday.

“Editorial boards, like voters at the ballot box, sometime change their minds," the updated endorsement read. "Initially we crafted an editorial Thursday endorsing the three challengers in Tuesday’s City Council election. After careful reconsideration, we decided to back incumbent Joe Vinatieri along with Craig Lebow and Lupe Sahagan-Garcia [sic]. The initial endorsement was erroneously posted online.”

The change has enraged oil drilling critics.

Resident Paula Valle Castanon of the anti-drilling group Whittier Hills Oil Watch said she believes the newspaper was coerced into changing its opinion. Drilling has been a contentious issue in Whittier ever since Matrix Oil set its sights on the city’s resources. The current City Council approved the Santa Barbara-based corporation’s plan, but drilling has been held up by two lawsuits.

“Yesterday the editorial was all the buzz; I mean everyone was calling everyone -- Whittier in some ways is a small town,” Valle Castanon said. “Where did things change in the mix? Something shifted, and all of a sudden the call for change was not the message any longer. It’s almost a mixed message now.”

The executive editor of the San Gabriel Valley Newsgroup, which publishes the Whittier paper, said the editorial was written by a group of three people.

“In this case the editors had not finished reviewing the draft and during their review they decided to go a different direction in terms of the endorsements,” Frank Pine said. “It was posted by mistake; we fixed it; we appropriately disclosed what happened with a note on the editorial. [We] endeavor to be as transparent as we possibly can.”

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-- Corina Knoll

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