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
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
’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
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.