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Sporting News 

The wonderful world of sport, packaged to appeal to a city of blasé cafe intellectuals

Wednesday, May 23 2001
It's fitting that our Best of San Francisco issue hits newsstands in the days following the year's best weekend -- Northern California's Weekend du Sport. The Bay to Breakers footrace wasn't the only glorious sporting pageant to mark last weekend; Saturday around 1,000 cyclists attempted the famous Davis Double Century 200-mile bicycle ride a 90-minute drive north of here, while, another two hours north, Redding played host to Redding Rodeo Week.

Every year these events provide proof that there is nothing in this world greater than sport; that mankind's most profound moments are found in athletic endeavor; and that sport is a most ethereal celebration of that future day when human perfection prevails.

You want human perfection? Look at Fred Whitfield, who led the Redding Rodeo calf-roping competition as of Friday night.

"What was neat was that Wednesday night we had a horse basketball competition. Fred Whitfield drove in with his horse and saw the kids playing [against] the disc jockeys. He saddled up his horse and played on the kids' side. He played with his own horse, which is worth who knows how many thousands of dollars," says Eugene Parham, a member of the Redding Rodeo Commission. "That's the kind of people you deal with in rodeo."

Sadly, San Francisco is lousy with cafe intellectuals too focused on squalid city matters to learn the wonder of sport. It is with hope of converting a few of these lost souls to the sporting spirit that this week I set aside the mantle of news columnist, and pick up the sportswriter's pen. Today, in the issue where SF Weekly celebrates what's best about San Francisco, I'll use my space to celebrate San Francisco sport.

One of 2001's most coveted sporting prizes goes to Fineman Associates Public Relations, the winner of a Bulldog Award for Excellence in Media Relations and Publicity (known here as "The World Series of Spin"). Bulldogs are given out every year by Infocom Group, which publishes a newsletter advising PR flacks on how to pitch stories to journalists.

Fineman won its award for a two-week stint in 1999, when it shone the best possible light on a power struggle between the Pacifica Foundation, which runs a coast-to-coast chain of community radio stations, and staff at Pacifica's Berkeley affiliate, KPFA. In exchange for $50,000, Fineman successfully advised Pacifica management to allow KPFA volunteers and employees to return to work after the nonprofit broadcast group had locked out and otherwise censored its Berkeley on-air talent.

We invited Fineman Associates' Michael Fineman to the SF Weekly telephone studios to talk about FA's come-from-behind Bulldog victory. According to helmsman Fineman, his team used quick thinking, subtle body English, and an unbeatable finishing sprint to bring an uneasy truce to the Pacifica-KPFA standoff.

SF Weekly: So Michael, what was it like out there on the playing field? I hear it was touch and go for a while.

Fineman: Our objective from the beginning was to help our clients (i.e., Pacifica management) tell their side of the story, because at that point they had failed miserably in doing that.

SFW: Uh-huh. How about strategy? What was your game plan?

Fineman: They appeared to want to do the right thing1 all the way, and our sense was, as long as they demonstrated goodwill and good faith and a willingness to do what was right, then we could provide service to them. And many people let us know that they thought we were naive in those assumptions about the Pacifica people, but in our own experience, we found them to be honest people who wanted to do the right thing.

To complement Fineman's comments about the on-field action, I thought I'd invite Larry Bensky, former national affairs correspondent for Pacifica and current host of KPFA's Sunday Salon show, for a little press-box analysis.

SFW: So, Larry, what do you make of rising crisis-PR clutch player Michael Fineman, winner of this year's Bulldog Award? This could make him quite a force to reckon with as we enter the spring crisis-management season, don't you think?

Bensky: Their work for Pacifica was disgusting, overpaid, and full of shit. They attempted to convince the media, successfully in the case of the brain-dead editorial board of the San Francisco Chronicle, that everything would be just fine if everybody would back off on both sides. The fact is this station is being stolen by a bunch of insider-dealing cronies.

SFW: I hear you, Larry. But I was impressed by the way Fineman and his team managed to pull Pacifica from behind after that organization had turned itself into a public pariah. What do you think?

Bensky: For them to accept an award for something like that shows how low the standards of the industry are.

SFW: Hmm. Thanks, Larry.

Next we turn to John Stauber, founder of the public relations monitoring group PR Watch. Stauber is co-author of Trust Us, We're Experts: How Industry Manipulates Science and Gambles With Your Future.

SFW: So how about that Fineman Associates, John?

Stauber: I really think that this award is in the wrong category. It should have been Quick Buck of the Year Award. Apparently they were on the job long enough to pocket 50 grand. So this must have been the quickest buck in the ad biz. All they had to do was say, "You idiots, why don't you do what people want! You owe us 50 grand.'"

SFW: In other words, Fineman displayed the kind of fast-twitch muscle action, fancy footwork, and layered sporting strategy that has marked champions through time. Thanks for your thoughts, John.

But did Fineman learn anything in this round he might use in future contests? Will Fineman Associates seek to defend its Bulldog title. Where do they go from here?


Fineman: I would say that I am proud of my agency's role in this situation, that we came in with good intentions, and we counseled what was right and good, and our client listened, and at least for that moment in time, the right thing happened. The right thing happened, and the radio station reopened.

About The Author

Matt Smith


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