By: M.L. Stein
Why did the Examiner downplay marriage of editor and movie star?
IN THE SLAM-BANG tradition of San Francisco journalism, whacking the opposition paper is a familiar exercise, and San Francisco Chronicle columnist Ken Garcia took his shot at the San Francisco Examiner and its honeymooning executive editor.
Garcia, in a recent column, knocked the Examiner for skimpy coverage of the Valentine’s Day wedding of editor Phil Bronstein and actress Sharon Stone in Los Angeles. While the story made headlines from New York to Bangkok, “hardly a peep” was heard from the Examiner, Garcia wrote, or the Chronicle. It was, he said, “a silence so deep that some people who attended the wedding won’t ? at the behest of the new private citizen Stone ? even acknowledge that they were there.” The Examiner published only a photo and cutline of the married couple the day after the wedding, a Sunday.
The Chronicle ran a pre-wedding story, naming the place and date, but did not report on the ceremony. A city desk editor said that since the Examiner puts out the news section of the two papers’ combined Sunday edition, editors felt Chronicle readers would have seen the Examiner’s photo.
The papers work under a joint operating agreement for the business and production departments, an arrangement their newspeople view as concerning only the bean counters.
Although acknowledging briefly that the Chronicle virtually passed on the story, columnist Garcia reserved his harshest jabs for Bronstein. “The Examiner’s often-absent newsroom general,” he wrote, “has been known to print anything in his path, as long as it pushed his own agenda, which includes street sales, self-promotion and a chance to whack his sworn enemy, The Chronicle. So here he is at the epicenter of the juiciest story to hit town in years and scarcely a word.”
At one point, Garcia referred to Bronstein as “Mr. Stone” and even harked back to his years as an overseas reporter, describing him as a “man who once recounted in painful purple prose how, as a weary foreign correspondent, he pulled a pair of his girlfriend’s red panties from his flak jacket to remind him ? and his gagging readers ? why it is that war correspondents go to war.”
Garcia also dredged up an incident a few years ago when Bronstein decked the mayor’s political consultant in the publisher’s office in response to complaints about the Examiner’s city hall reporters. Garcia also quoted London’s tabloid Mirror about an alleged prenuptial agreement in which Bronstein will get “$500,000 or so” if the union fails within two years.
The columnist wound up by wishing “the Stones all the best in their marriage” but urging Bronstein to: “Stand up for the First Amendment and return respect to the sorry souls who gather each day at Fifth and Mission [the home of the Examiner and Chronicle] to engage in the tradition of news gathering. The City . . . deserves its rightful share of the dirt.”
The Examiner never has been known for turning the other cheek, and managing editor Sharon Rosenhause continued that tradition, saying she didn’t want to “dignify Garcia’s column by talking about it” ? but called it a “piece of crap” anyway.
Rosenhause explained that a week before the wedding, the Examiner ran a personality profile on Stone in connection with her new movie, Sphere, and mentioned that she and Bronstein were dating. She termed the Examiner’s coverage “appropriate for us,” adding, “The wedding was not in San Francisco, Sharon Stone is not a San Francisco person, the wedding was private, and we do not generally cover celebrity weddings of that sort.”
Asked about Bronstein’s role as editor and subject, Rosenhause replied, “It made it more difficult, more awkward. But Phil did not decide the coverage, I did.” She said Bronstein left no orders on how the wedding was to be handled.
Examiner columnist Rob Morse, never averse to knocking the Chronicle, accused Garcia of hurling a “slimeball.” “Anytime a newspaper downplays celebrity coverage, whatever the reason, that’s a good thing,” he asserted. “Imagine the harrumphs from the Washington Post, and obedient harrumphs from the Chronicle, if we had splashed our editor’s marriage all over the front page? Get this. The Chron’s columnist accused the Examiner of violating the First Amendment by not spilling our editor’s private life all over the paper.”
Garcia gave no quarter in his defense of the column. “It was the biggest celebrity story to come along in San Francisco in a long time and it was flubbed,” he argued. The 40-year-old columnist said Examiner staffers called “thanking me for breaking the silence.”
Chronicle editor Matthew Wilson took a measured view of the exchanges. “We did not want to seem as promoting a competitor,” he said to explain his sparse coverage of the wedding. “During the courtship, it was hard to know wheth-
er to treat it as a tabloid story, so we left it alone. But there were a lot of high-level meetings to figure out what to do. In the end, we decided to treat it as a Hollywood film star getting married.”
Other Chronicle columnists have taken potshots at newspaper rivals. John King recently predicted that the five papers ? owned by Knight Ridder’s Contra Costa Newspapers ? in the East Bay will merge into the flagship Contra Costa Times in a cost-cutting move. Downsizing and journalism “are synonymous these days” at CCN, he said, explaining that nearly a dozen positions were vacant.
With its East Bay edition, the Chronicle is making a strong bid for circulation in the fast-growing area.
Asked about issues King raised, CCN editor John Armstrong said, “Why would I share our business plan for a self-serving column in a competing newspaper?”
?(Sparks fly over coverage ? or lack of it ? of wedding between actress
Sharon Stone and Examiner exec Phil Bronstein.) [Photo & Caption]
?(E&P Web Site: http://www.mediainfo. com)
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher March 14, 1998)