Damning SF Examiner testimony throws Hearst into PR hot water

SAN FRANCISCO: Hearst, which publishes at least a dozen major US dailies including the San Francisco Examiner, has found itself in PR hot water due to damning testimony in an antitrust lawsuit to block the sale of the San Francisco Chronicle.

SAN FRANCISCO: Hearst, which publishes at least a dozen major US dailies including the San Francisco Examiner, has found itself in PR hot water due to damning testimony in an antitrust lawsuit to block the sale of the San Francisco Chronicle.

SAN FRANCISCO: Hearst, which publishes at least a dozen major US

dailies including the San Francisco Examiner, has found itself in PR hot

water due to damning testimony in an antitrust lawsuit to block the sale

of the San Francisco Chronicle.



Examiner publisher and editor-in-chief Timothy White testified in court

that he had offered San Francisco mayor Willie Brown favorable editorial

coverage if the mayor supported Hearst’s deal to purchase the Chronicle

and sell off its less-profitable afternoon Examiner. White also admitted

that he had related the lunch conversation with Brown in an e-mail to

corporate executives at New York City-based Hearst, and conceded that

the deal amounted to what plaintiff attorney Joseph Alioto described as

a ’horse-trading.’ On the other hand, White denied that the Examiner’s

later endorsement of Brown in last fall’s mayoral race had anything to

do with this conversation.



Reaction to the widely reported court proceedings was swift. Within a

day, Examiner editorial staffers issued a statement emphasizing their

lack of knowledge about White’s talk with Brown and asserting their

commitment to journalistic ethics. Meanwhile, Examiner executive editor

Phil Bronstein, who was present at the same lunch with Brown and White,

hit the radio and TV talk-show circuit to deny such negotiations

occurred. Mayor Brown also denied any such discussion took place. Hearst

immediately suspended White ’pending further investigation’ of the

matter.



However, the PR crisis was compounded one day later when Alioto

presented evidence showing that White’s testimony matched a deposition

the ousted publisher had given the Justice Department last December.

According to the deposition transcript, two Hearst lawyers attended that

session, calling into question the company’s claim that it had no

previous knowledge of White’s behavior.



Hearst director of corporate communications Debra Shriver was quoted as

saying that senior management at the company was not aware of the

content of White’s earlier testimony, despite the presence of Hearst

lawyers at the hearing. However, in what looks like a belated crisis

communications ploy, Hearst has retained an undisclosed San Fran PR firm

to implement ’a very comprehensive strategy that we cannot reveal at

this time,’ according to executive corporate communications director

Paul Luthringer.



’All of the facts not specific to the lawsuit have to be rebutted and

highlighted as static to those covering the trial,’ he added, pointing

out that Hearst was also taking proactive measures via the Web: ’Our

strategy continues to emphasize targeting Internet news sites and online

bulletin boards.’



The Shinoff Group is handling media relations for Clint Reilly, the

former mayoral candidate and notorious political consultant who filed

the suit to block the Chronicle’s sale. Reilly contends that Hearst’s

plan to buy the Chronicle and sell the Examiner to a crosstown publisher

would effectively end newspaper competition in San Francisco.



Paul Shinoff said his team’s strategy is to ’bring the so-called ’meat

of the story’ forward’ via posting of trial transcripts and documents in

order to prevent media from pouncing on Reilly’s motives (he is a

long-time Brown foe). ’We were aware that without any kind of PR effort,

the lawsuit would likely be perceived as the instrument of a vengeful

politician,’ he explained.



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